Why the BMW sits low on one side.

I always wondered why the BMW sits slightly lower on one side than on the other. I thought it might be years of sitting lop sided because of the fact that the handbrake only grips on one side. It’s caused the fender liner to get all torn up as well (I thought this was because of me driving over those annoying concrete things in parking spaces….

It turns out there is an explanation….

The spring has snapped. Damned Previous Owners!!

The truly annoying thing is that I’ve had both the BMW dealership and a tire/alignment shop examine the car to look for exactly this kind of thing, and neither of them found it. I’ll be ordering springs today :).

Learning to Fly & First Solo.

After flying with Hans back in January – I quickly got to thinking about how cool it was to fly, and how accessible it was to do so. I had tinkered with flight simulators a lot when I was a kid, but I always just assumed it would be utterly unthinkable to actually consider flying a real airplane.
It turns out that learning to fly is not cheap, but it is doable. Since it takes a while to learn, the cost can also be spread over a few months. There are various numbers out there, but think about between $10k to $20k to obtain a private pilot license at the current time. I also live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which increases the cost some.

The first thing I did was to figure out which of my friends had any contact with the aviation community and find a good instructor. I had worked at Viant after Vance Cochrane was there. Vance recommended Dominique Marais as an instructor at West Valley Flying Club – so I took a discovery flight with her in an old Cessna 172. Since I wanted to broaden my horizons a little, I also took a discovery flight with Tim Stingle in a Diamond Katana. My flight with Tim was much more intense than the flight with Dominique, as he took more of a “drop you in the deep end” kind of approach, plus the Katana is really a very light and maneuverable plane. I like the variety of planes that West Valley has available, and I think Dominique’s teaching style works better for me – so that’s how that decision was made. In retrospect Diamond Aviation is no longer listing the Katana’s on their site, and I more often fly out of Palo Alto, so I’m very happy with my choice, and Dominique is a great (and patient) teacher and a fun person to be around.

The next issue I ran into was getting a TSA clearance to learn to fly. Since I was still a green card holder when I started my training I first had to get a new UK passport, and then apply to the alien flight student program. You don’t need this for your first “discovery flight” with a flight school, (you can also log your discovery flight, so get your logbook first), but for any subsequent flight training in the air, you need this. I kept my frustration to a minimum by doing a lot of ground study while this was going on.

My early training was thick and fast. The learning curve is steep at the beginning – and there are a lot of things to remember, and new things are introduced almost every lesson. This makes the process very rewarding, and the first time you execute a takeoff, or a steep turn, it is all memorable and fun.

After a few months of training, Dominique felt that I was ready to solo, and my confidence level also started to improve to the point where that was possible. I left it a little late getting my Medical certificate. This was a big mistake. The fact that I am asthmatic meant that I had to go to the hospital for a ~$2000 set of lung tests before I could get my medical certificate. Having done that, I’ll have to have the same batch of tests done again this year, since they only issued me a single year certificate. The delays and issues with getting this done meant that it took about 3 months from start to finish and was quite stressful and difficult to organise.

Having gotten my medical and preparing for the solo phase check; naturally all my skills fell apart in a ball of nervousness and anxiety; so some more time was then spent correcting this.

Finally, on November 2nd, 2007 I did my first solo. 3 laps of the pattern at Palo Alto airport. This was a huge moment for me and I enjoyed it immensely. I’d always messed around with flight simulators on the computer when I was a kid. I never even considered it would be possible to actually learn to fly. I also didn’t expect it to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.