I arrived at precisely 8.00 am for my flying lesson today 27 November, 2011. It was a gray, slightly overcast morning a little breezy with a temperature of 36 F. It was certainly a better day than yesterday so I was excited. I’ve gotten so used to going on the weekends to fly that the days I miss; it seems as if I’ve missed a day from work and a day’s salary. Anyway, I got out of the car and entered the school building to find Becky at the front desk ready to check me in. After the usual paper work and the pre-flight inspection, I returned to the building from the hangar to find Tim chatting with Becky about Black Friday. I greeted Tim and joined in the conversation as Tim was explaining how his aunt and niece had gone shopping on Black Friday. I then asked if they had heard about the lady with the pepper spray, and both Tim and Becky said, “Oh yes” in unison and we all laughed.
Tim then said, “We’ll fly out to Princeton today and practice some maneuvers such as S-Turns, Turns Around a Point etc and then practice some landings out there too. I’ve brought my GPS system also to see how we do. Then, we’ll visit the Princeton airport and the Flight Service Station”, he then added, “Well if you want to, otherwise we can just practice landings and takeoffs here at Crystal”? I thought that we should give landings and takeoffs a bit of a break and welcomed this opportunity to fly out to Princeton. Tim had mentioned we would fly out here one day way back in September when we had visited Buffalo airport. “No, I don’t mind at all Tim, let’s go”. So as we flew NW towards Princeton which is 30 miles from Crystal, Tim called Minneapolis Airport and sought permission to see if we could fly IFR for a while even though he had a VFR student with him. Remember, a VFR student is supposed to have 3 hours of instrument training, and I had already done some IFR earlier, but that was simulated using foggles as the weather was nice. Today however, the weather was good or bad enough, as the case maybe, to do some actual instrument training. Minneapolis airport gave as the go ahead after asking us how long we were planning to be in the clouds and where we were eventually going. “Okay we have permission, let’s fly up to 4500 feet or so”, said Tim. We were soon up in the clouds and I couldn’t see anything and Tim said, “Now you can understand why they call it IFR” and I replied, “Oh yes!” and we both laughed. Tim then turned on the Carburetor heat to prevent any ice building up in the engine, and then he told me to look at the leading edges of the wings which had already started to form ice on the surface. I had to pay close attention to the instruments, especially the Attitude (or Horizon) indicator. Tim said to keep the Attitude indicator level and to make just small changes.
Princeton is another unmanned airport and as we were preparing to land, approximately 2 miles out of Princeton airport, Tim announced on a general frequency to any other pilots in the area that we were about to land on the runway. Once we landed we disembarked and went to the unmanned airport building. Tim entered the Unicom code to gain access. This airport building was not as modern, nor as large as the Buffalo airport building but it still had all the facilities that airport had. Tim then said, only a few days ago, a student pilot on his second solo flight crashed and destroyed the plane because the engine just stopped working about 400 ft or so after he took off from this very same airport. He apparently did all the right things, but must have also panicked and suddenly pushed the yoke in and of course he nose-dived into the ground. Tim said that the student did that because he thought he was going to hit some trees that were ahead of him, and didn’t think he would glide over them. So instead, he tried to turn away from the trees and at the same time nose-dived, but it didn’t end there. Once the plane hit nose first, the tail went over as if the plane did a cart-wheel. The rudder was damaged also. He thankfully was not hurt and incredibly walked away without a scratch. “I’m telling you this, not to scare you, but to let you know what could happen and what you should do, because you’re getting very close to that first solo flight”, Tim concluded.
We then walked out to the hanger to see the plane. I could now see up close what happened to the plane. It was a late 1970’s or early 1980’s Cessna. The propeller was bent and had separated from the engine, the spinner was completely squashed. The left wing was completely damaged. “When we go back I will show you the picture of how the plane ended up after the crash”, said Tim.
We then left and went next door to the Flight Service Station (FSS). This is a Federal Building and one of 6 left in the entire country! We were allowed in and greeted by a gentleman who introduced himself as Mike. Mike is in his mid to late sixties and a plump fellow with glasses. I noticed he had a firm handshake as I introduced myself. Tim introduced himself and said he was an instructor and I was his student and wanted to show me around the FSS building. Mike was pleased and said, “Oh I can do that for you!” As we walked in, Mike lead us into a large room that had about 20 or so individuals on phones with two monitors before them. Mike took us to his desk where he had three monitors. He then proceeded to explain what they did there in great detail. To cut a long story short, basically the Flight Service Station advises pilots on planning their trips and the weather forecast. He said although they were located in Minnesota, they in fact did not cover the Minnestoa area as such. This area and the surrounding states were covered by Fortworth in Texas. He said if anyone called in, they would inform them of the weather forecast before their journey, if you needed information during flight, the pilot would be connected to Fortworth. Mike then showed us what he would do if someone called in. So he pulled up a screen on his computer and asked us which plane we were flying and it’s identification number. Then he asked us if we were returning to Crystal from here and if we would be flying VFR or IFR. Once we gave him this information he entered it into the computer and clicked submit. A map of Minnesota came up with Princeton and Crystal and a plane on the flight path to Crystal. Then in another part of the screen he read the current weather conditions if we returned immediately. Mike said, that some 20 years back there were hundreds of FS Stations but now there are only 6 left in the country and this was mostly because of technology. Many people look up information on the internet, have GPS systems, cell phones etc. to help them now. Mike continued, “Now there’s even an automated Flight Service Station at http://www.afss.com/ that you can gain information from. Tim asked if I had anymore questions and I said no I think I’ve asked all I wanted to and Mike’s explanation was very good. With that, Tim said, “We need to get back as the plane was reserved by another student”. So we left thanking Mr. Mike Thompson.