Category Archives: Flight training

In the Bubble and in the Air

Yesterday I got up early and drove to the airport. I was anxious to get back up in the airplane for a morning of flying. It has been nearly 3 months since I last flew.

I had planned on heading north from the airport to a nearby airport to practice takeoffs and landings at an airport with a shorter, narrower runway than St. Cloud Regional Airport. As I approached St Cloud my sunny blue skies at home were quickly changing to a low cloud cover.

The cloud ceilings were high enough I could fly at the airport but I didn’t want to risk them getting lower before I would return to the airport. I stayed in the traffic pattern practicing my takeoffs and landings. Each pass around the airport I tried to improve my landings, maintaining airspeeds, headings and altitude. It felt great to be back up in the plane.

St. Cloud Regional Airport FBO & Wright Aero Flight School

My other reason for heading to the airport was to say goodbye to my CFI. She called the night before last to tell me that yesterday would be her last day at the flight school. She would be moving on to St Louis, MO to a new position this weekend.

There have been a lot of changes at the flight school since the announcement by St. Cloud State University that they would be discontinuing their aviation program. It is very sad to see things changing at the flight school. There are very few familiar faces left there since I started my flight training 3 years ago. I loved going there and listening to the enthusiasm of the CFI’s and their students.

After I did my post flight on the airplane I said my goodbyes and then drove over to the control tower for my first visit there. I’ve driven to the airport the past three years and always wondered what it was like in the tower and how much they could actually see from the tower.

When I went up in the Control Tower after going through a couple of security points I met Jim the on-duty controller. He was very pleasant and offered to answer any questions I had as time was available. He showed me where he gets the weather from for the hourly ATIS report and I got to hear him record the new ATIS report for the pilots. After he finished with ATIS he went on to explain that since the Delta airspace at the St. Cloud Regional Airport has no radar so he has to rely on sight and radio reports of aircraft positions.

Cessna taking off from the St. Cloud Regional Airport on Runway 13. The view is from the control tower

While I was in the tower I heard a radio call from a Canadian plane that was headed for the airport. He reported his position but was having a little difficulty spotting the airport. Jim patiently asked about landmarks the pilot had seen on his way in and tried to direct him the airport. Jim gave me a pair of binoculars like the pair he was using so I could see if I could spot the plane on its approach.  I was amazed at how little distance the controller has to work with in spotting an inbound plane.

View of Runway 13 from the control tower with the windsock in the foreground. Runway 5/23 also in the foreground.

Jim referred to the tower as a bubble.”We are just high enough in our bubble to give us an aerial view of the ground operations but not much beyond that.” He pointed out that when we are landing on runway 13 which is at the farthest end of the runway from the tower there are times because of the trees on the horizon it is possible to lose visual contact with the airplanes especially small Cessna high wing aircraft that I fly.

One of the things that he said that makes his job more difficult is pilots who read back absolutely everything that the controller says to them especially when all the pilot would have to respond with would be “Roger” or respond in the affirmative. There are times when we are required a verbatim read back as in clearances but he said that a lot of the other talking we do is too wordy and eats up radio time that might be needed by another pilot. He said keeping things short and simple will help everyone.

After my trip up to the tower this week I know that had I been taken there early in my training that I could have done a better job at making the controller’s life simpler by reporting my position as accurately as possible and keeping my radio responses shorter, two things I will definitely work on in the future, thanks to Jim.


Posted by on July 24, 2011 in Flight training, Photography


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Great Advice in an Unexpected Place

When I was checking the weather over the past few days and for the next few days to schedule some flying time the low ceilings of the past few days and forecast for the days to come reminded me of this post that I wrote this winter but never published. It was shortly after we returned from our first trip to Florida for a few days vacation away from the Minnesota cold.

This morning my flying lesson was canceled due to low ceilings. While in town I decided to take care of a few errands. I had my backseat of my car filled with bags of clothes that my youngest had cleaned out of her closet this week. After dropping of the bags at Goodwill I headed over to the mall to get a long overdue haircut.

I pampered myself and said yes to have my hair washed, cut and styled. I rarely leave the hair salon with dry hair. Usually a quick cut and out the door with wet hair and back to work. This morning was a treat. It was as close as I’ll ever get to going to a spa.

 Two weeks ago our local grocery store’s roof collapsed due to a heavy snow load. It has forced me to change my shopping habits and actually plan out my meals. While in town I went to the grocery store to pick up food that I needed for this weekend to feed our family and some guests for Sunday evening.

 I gathered my groceries and headed to the checkout lines and surveyed which line I thought I might move faster through. Each of the lines was long so I just got in line in the closest checkout. As I moved forward in line I noticed that the clerk was a small-framed older woman I guessed to be between 75-80 years old.

 The closer I got I watched her efficiency in her task of checking out the groceries and loading them back into the cart to be bagged by me later. When I was by the register I noticed the pin on her smock that said 5+. I assumed that it was her years of service at the store and asked her about it.

I said,  “Have you worked here for 5 years?”

She said  ”No, almost 9 years.”

I don’t usually engage clerks in personal discussions because they can sometimes lead into awkward subjects but I was curious as to why and almost 80-year old woman was checking out groceries.

I asked her “So do you have to work here or do you want to work here?” I was curious as to whether she was one of the many elderly that need to supplement her income or was there another reason that she was working.

“I just had to get out of the house” she replied. “I lost my husband a few years ago and the house just seemed to big and quiet.”

“How long were you married?”  She replied “54 years”

“Let me give you a bit of advice dear” she said to me. “Do all you can while you are young and able because you never know when you won’t be able to do what you planned. My husband and I did some traveling but always planned to do more and then one day he was gone and everything changed.”

A bit of advice I plan on using…..









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Decisions, decisions…

Last evening I received a phone call from my Uncle Harold in Illinois. He called to congratulate my on earning my private pilot’s certificate. He’s an old railroad man but he is also a pilot.

He called to chat for a bit about flying. He is in his 80’s. He quizzed me a bit on my flying, asking me about VFR minimums and weather. It was sort of a mini flight review. He used to be a CFI and was anxious to impart his wisdom for which I was happy to receive.

I asked him how he heard of me earning my PPL and he said he thought Aunt Dorothy told him.  Now Aunt Dorothy lives in Forsyth, MT about 500 nautical miles west of where I live in Central Minnesota. My mom’s family is spread out from Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arizona, and a few other states but this summer there is a family reunion in June at my Aunt Dorothy’s. He ended his conversation with “We’re looking forward to seeing you at the reunion!”

The reunion in on a Saturday and I have been contemplating renting a plane and flying out for the reunion. There is an airport in Forsyth, MT. I checked and there are several other airports along the way. It would be a little over five hours of flying from home to Forsyth. It would be a true “cross-country” flight in my book.

While in flight training we had to plan a long-cross country flight. It did not take the kind of planning that would be required for a five-hour flight. I’m excited at the prospect of taking the flight if the weather permits.

One thing I know for sure from flying is that weather is unpredictable. So while I would love to fly to Montana if the weather isn’t good, I won’t. This means that I will have to be watching the weather for days in advance to look at the weather patterns and make a decision. If the weather is at all iffy that means hopping in the car and driving instead of flying. If I wait too long to decide then I won’t make it to the reunion.

It’s a common dilemma for pilots. Some make bad decisions and put themselves and others at risk because they have their heart set on flying and not driving or they don’t allow enough driving time to attend an event if the weather seems to turn.

Even if the weather looks good for my departure time and I decide to fly there is always the possibility of not making the reunion because of the weather changing in some part of my route. If the weather doesn’t look good all the way through to the destination and back at the time of my departure, I will have to cancel and miss the reunion.

Between now and the reunion I have to decide. What is more important, attending the reunion or flying? If it is attending the reunion then I had better plan on driving and allow enough time for it. If it is some flying time then I will choose to fly to Montana for the reunion but if the weather is not great then I will cancel my flying time and look for another flying adventure at another time.

I hope the stars align for some flying.


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Time to Fly on a Day Off


I love early mornings. Especially ones with no snow and the possibility of flying for a time. This morning I am headed off to the airport with hopes of hitting some clear blue skies to view life from a different perspective.

My husband and I will be mixing it up a little with business and pleasure. Some flying time, some errands and be assured some photo time as well.

A couple of things that I love about early mornings are the quiet and the beautiful color changes I can see as the sun is rising. This morning in a matter of just 15 minutes the sky has gone from blues to pinks as the sun is rising.


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Beacon of Light

Last evening I needed to kill a little time while my husband was at a racing meeting for the upcoming race season.  I decided to visit the local airport in Fergus Falls, Minnesota while he was at his meeting. I have often thought about flying to the airport but haven’t flown there yet.  When I am flying into a new airport I like to be as familiar with the surroundings as much as possible before I take off so I know what to expect upon landing. 

One of the most comforting feelings as a pilot is to see the rotating beacon in the distance as you approach the airport.  It lets you know you are almost there.  It projects a welcoming glow of safety to pilots much like the glow of a lighthouse identifies danger to passing ships on the water. 

Airports are not always easy to find if you are not familiar with the terrain and a lot of small airplanes like the Cessna I fly do not have GPS to identify my location.  I have other means to determine where I am at any given time that I learned in my training.  The rotating beacon confirms for me that I am on the correct path to my destination.

This morning my lesson for my Sunday School class of fourth – sixth graders was based on text from Matthew 5:14-16

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

I didn’t look at my lesson until this morning for my class today.  I love how last evening’s photo and this morning’s lesson fit so well together.  As a pilot it would be very difficult to find the airport without the beacon of light especially at night.  We each need beacons in our lives to show us the safe path to travel.  We also need to be beacons of light and safety for others. 

 This morning in class we discussed the fact that even though they are young there are still others that are observing them.  Many have younger siblings or classmates that are watching them for direction.  Young or old we can be a positive influence of light and safety into the lives of others.


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Clouds on the Ground

Earlier this week I scheduled rental on a Cessna 172 for this morning.  It was before the forecast started firming up for today’s weather.  I had to cancel my flying for this morning.  The clouds are on the ground.  The Metar was OVC 001 which means that it is overcast and the cloud ceiling is 100 ft.  Definitely not high enough for flying.  I have to admit I’m disappointed.  It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve been up flying and was looking forward to it.

The above picture is standing at the shore of the lake this morning.  Usually I can see the opposite shores west, north and east.  This is the eastern view.  I can at least see a little in that direction.  To the west and north nothing but the whiteness of the snow on the lake and the fog. 

When I was down by the lake this morning I could see headlights off in the east.  I couldn’t believe someone actually planned on driving on the lake with a pickup truck.  The ice is not good this year.  Remember my earlier post about the annual intelligence test?  I have a feeling that before this weekend is over someone, maybe that truck will go through the ice. 

I could tell that it is much warmer this morning.  In the distance I could hear the crows cawing.  That is something you usually don’t hear on most winter days around here.  Only on the warmer days. 

Just as I started to walk back up to the house I heard a gas-powered ice auger start drilling holes.  That pickup truck must have found its perfect ice fishing spot….or not!   We will see what the day brings.


Posted by on December 30, 2010 in Flight training, Nature, Photography


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Working the Numbers in the Pattern

This morning I went flying.  I didn’t go far, just up to 1800′ MSL or 800′ AGL which is the traffic pattern altitude at St. Cloud Regional Airport where I was flying.  After reaching the end of the runway after takeoff I made a 90 degree left turn and then turned another 90 degree turn to downwind, traveled the entire distance back to the other end of the runway, turned another 90 degree  left turn to base and then turned 90 degrees to final and landed. 

This is what is called the traffic pattern.  Picture in your mind a large rectangle to the right or left of the runway with the runway as one of the long legs of the rectangle.  The control tower will designate which direction they want you to go after takeoff, either left or right.  Today he surprised me with left traffic on my first trip around the traffic pattern.  Most of the time at the St. Cloud Airport you make all right turns instead of left in the traffic pattern.  It was good practice to expect the unexpected.

The next time around the tower called right traffic for my trip around the airport so after takeoff I turned to the right and made all right turns back to the runway.  This morning I made eight trips around the airport, taking off and landing for each trip.  I needed to do at least three take offs and landings to be current to carry passengers for the next 90 days.  I flew my patterns this morning with a purpose beyond currency.  I wanted to work the numbers.

Part of flying is accuracy.  When you take your private pilot test or any other piloting test there are standards that you must adhere.  If you are flying an altitude like in the traffic pattern, to pass your test you must stay within the standards or you fail that part of the test.  So when I say that I wanted to work the numbers I mean that I want to pursue accuracy.  I want to hold a specific altitude, airspeed, heading and attitude.  In the traffic pattern the altitude that we are to be at except when turning to base and final is 1800′ MSL at the St. Cloud Regional Airport.  The traffic pattern altitude is different at each airport.  It is one of the things you need to know before you fly to another airport.

When I was flying the 152 I was working each pass to be better at maintaining my altitude not at 1700′ or 1900′ which would have been just within standards but right on 1800′ msl.  Each pass I worked on maintaining my specific airspeed for each leg of the pattern.  80 knots for the downwind leg, 70 for base, and 60 for final are the airspeeds that I try to maintain for the pattern.  If my numbers were off on one pass I worked on what adjustments needed to be made to keep my numbers right on 80, 70, 60 not wanting to accept anything more or less than that. 

Another skill I worked on was landing the airplane in a specific location on the runway.  This meant that I had to be set up perfect on final with my airspeed, alignment, attitude (nose high or low) and throttle.  This part of flying has been the most difficult for me.  Judging where I needed to touch down to stop by a certain distance.  I fly at an airport that has the luxury of a long, wide runway for the Cessna that I fly.  It is not the case at other airports in our area.  Most of them are half the distance and width than KSTC so it is important to be able to land in the shortest distance possible as near to the beginning of the runway.  At the end of my flying today my accuracy had improved but it is something I need to keep working on.

Just as an athletic works to improve his or her skills at their sport through practice, a pilot needs to do the same, always striving to do it better than the last time.


Posted by on December 11, 2010 in Flight training


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Just a Little Weather Lesson

This morning I have a plane reserved to get a little flying time in.  I’m excited.  It’s been a while since I’ve been up flying.  If I want to take passengers up flying with me I have to keep current.  The FAA rules state that if I want to carry passengers when I fly these are the rules:

  • That person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days.
  • The person acted as the sole manipulator of the flight controls.
  • And the required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required).

The last time I was up flying was September 30.  It hasn’t been 90 days since I was flying but almost.  I could carry a passenger this morning legally but I won’t do it because frankly I am probably a little rusty in the landing department. 

I scheduled some time in the 152 for practice.  I will probably stay at the airport in the traffic pattern practicing take offs and landings.  After practicing take offs and landing I will fly to a local practice area to practice manuevers like steep turns, slow flight, stalls and ground reference manuevers. 

Before I can do any of this I have to check the weather.  Here is what it looks like:

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)Output produced by METARs form (1227 UTC 10 December 2010)
found at
METAR text: KSTC 101153Z AUTO 30006KT 8SM CLR M11/M13 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP132 T11061128 11028 21106 51015
Conditions at: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US) observed 1153 UTC 10 December 2010
Temperature: -10.6°C (13°F)
Dewpoint: -12.8°C (9°F) [RH = 84%]
Pressure (altimeter): 29.84 inches Hg (1010.6 mb)
[Sea-level pressure: 1013.2 mb]
Winds: from the WNW (300 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 8 miles (13 km)
Ceiling: at least 12,000 feet AGL
Clouds: sky clear below 12,000 feet AGL
Weather: automated observation with no human augmentation;
there may or may not be significant weather present at this time

Forecast for: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US)
Text: KSTC 101138Z 1012/1112 29006KT P6SM FEW020
Forecast period: 1200 to 1800 UTC 10 December 2010
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the WNW (290 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2000 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period


I plan on flying from 9:00-11:00 this morning which translates to 1400-1600 UTC.  I like the part of the forecast that forecasts the winds @290 degrees @ 6 knots.  What that means to me is that there will not be much of a cross wind for take offs and landings.  I will be using Runway 31.  The heading for the runway is 310 degrees so when I take off and land the winds will almost be straight down the runway which is a good thing when you are flying. 

One thing I will have to watch this morning are the clouds.  We have snow moving in later today and the clouds will be increasing as the day goes on which is why I chose to fly this morning and not this afternoon.  Flying under Visual Flight Rules or VFR I need to see the ground  and maintain a certain distance from the clouds.  If I can’t do that, I can’t fly.  This would not be a day I would choose for a cross-country flight because the weather will be unpredictable.  It is a good day for flying at the airport or near it.  

If the weather cooperates next week I hope to go up with my CFI for my final checkout on the Cessna 172.  Once checked out on the 172 I will be able to take both my parents up for a ride.  I’ve put off taking them for a ride because I wanted to take both of them at the same time.  The 152 is a two seat airplane.  The 172 is a four seat plane.  My Christmas present for them is a plane ride to Alexandria for lunch.  If I don’t get everything done before Christmas with the 172 I may have to come up with something else to wrap up under the tree. 

Did I mention I hate shopping?



Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Flight training, Flying Adventures


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The Right Attitude

Attitude Indicator-Image credit

Monday morning again.  Where did the weekend go and how did Monday morning get here so quickly?   I’m struck with extreme sluggishness after a weekend of busyness.  Too much of a sugar high after an evening of Halloween treats and an overall desire to climb back into my bed and pull the covers up over my head in perfect denial of a job waiting for me this morning.   Its going to take a great deal of attention on my part today to my attitude to be effective at work.

In flying, its all about the right attitude.    Flying by attitude means visually establishing the airplane’s attitude with reference to the natural horizon.  There are four components in attitude flying:  pitch, bank, power, and trim.  Each of these four components are important for the pilot to maintain his or her position relative to the horizon.  If the nose of the plane is too high or low relative to the horizon a pitch change is made using the elevator.  The desired bank angle relative to the horizon is achieved by using the ailerons for turning.  There are times when power needs to be added for more thrust or power needs to be removed for the desired attitude.  Lastly, the trim is used to relieve  all possible controls pressures after you have reached your desired attitude to help you maintain your attitude.

Today at work I will have to use my “pitch” control at work to keep me “up” at work and not depressed about having to be there because I am too tired from a weekend of too much UP TIME and not enough DOWN TIME , as in rest.

I will have to use my “bank” control to keep me from wandering from my appointed tasks at hand and keep me in level flight towards my goals for the day.  No sidetracked trips  to check emails or how my blog is doing today. 

“Power” will definitely need to be added today to keep my plane flying at the desired attitude of some forward motion in all that I do.

And once I am at the desired attitude at work some fine tuning will be required by adding some “trim” to my attitude.  How am I relating to others today?  I hope not crabby and cranky for they certainly don’t deserve it from me.  They are not the cause of my overall exhausted state.  So time to “Buck Up” as some would put it and find my best attitude for today.

The primary rule of attitude flying is:

The same rule can easily be applied in every job situation.  Have a great day at work!  I will, if I remember to start with the right attitude.

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Posted by on November 1, 2010 in Flight training, Reflections


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METARs – The Other Foreign Language

Two years ago when I started taking flying lessons I realized that there was a whole new language to learn for aviation.  It was the language of weather. It wasn’t like any other language I had attempted to learn.  It didn’t require me to roll my R’s like I had to for Spanish.  I didn’t have to worry about pronunciation like I did when I was learning German and French.  It definitely wasn’t like learning a computer programing language as in BASIC or DBASE.  This was just maybe the language I was meant to learn.  I could understand it.

This is a METAR (pronounced ME-TAR).  It is one source of  the weather conditions for the St. Cloud Regional Airport last evening.

KSTC 262353Z 25031G41KT 10SM -RA BKN023 BKN029 OVC037 04/02 A2875 RMK AO2 PK WND 26046/2339

At first when my CFI(Certified Flight Instructor) had me look up the weather on ADDS(Aviation Digital Data Service). It made no sense to me at all.  It was just a group of numbers and letters unlike any I had seen before.  My CFI explained that each section meant something.  The first part KSTC is the airport identifier.  KSTC is the airport identifier for the St. Cloud Regional Airport in Minnesota where I took my flying lessons.

The next section is the date and time section.  The 26 of 262353Z stands for the 26th of the month.  2353Z stands for ZULU time.  The time is based on a 24 hour clock like military time.  In St. Cloud at this time of year you need to subtract 5 hours from the 2353 which would be 1853 and subtract 12 hours to get the local time for the weather which is 6:53pm.

After the date and time comes the wind direction and velocity, 25031G41KT.  At 6:53pm on the 26th of October the winds were reported from 250 degrees(almost straight out of the west) at 31 knots gusting at times to 41 knots.  This is not a day that I would be flying a Cessna 152 or any other small plane.  In fact the commercial planes at Chicago O’Hare were grounded yesterday morning due to the strong winds.

The next section of the METAR is the runway visual range, 10SM.  In the case of yesterday’s METAR it was 10 statute miles or better.  After the visual range is the weather.  The weather was reported as -RA which is interpreted as light rain.

Cloud levels are next.  They report the type and height of the clouds.  In yesterday’s METAR the clouds were reported as BKN023 BKN029 OVC037.  Last night’s clouds at 6:53pm were BKN(Broken) which means that 5/8 to 7/8 of the sky was covered with clouds and the clouds were 2300 feet above ground level. You add two zeros at the end to get the height.  001 becomes 100 above ground level, 010 becomes 1000 AGL. There is also another layer of BKN clouds at 2900 above ground level. The third level is an overcast level at 3700 feet above ground level.  The lowest level of broken or overcast layer becomes the ceiling for VFR pilots.  In last night’s weather the cloud ceiling was 2300 feet above ground level.

The temperature and dew point section is next in the METAR.  In last night’s METAR the temperature is 04/02 which means the temperature is 4 degrees Celsius and the dew point is 2 degrees celsius.

The next section in the METAR is the altimeter.  It is represented by A2875 which is 28.75 inches of Hg.  The interesting fact about this altimeter setting is that it is the lowest recorded altimeter setting in St. Cloud for decades.  The St. Cloud area and most of Minnesota has been experiencing very strong sustained winds in the past 24 hours which is very unusual for our area.  The current altimeter setting is important.  Each time you depart or land at an airport it is important to have the current altimeter setting set in your airplane.

The last section of the METAR is the RMK or remark section where a briefer can add supplemental information.  They are represented by remark codes.  In last evening’s RMK section it was noted that the PK WND or peak wind in the past hour was from 260 degrees at 46 knots and it occurred at 2339Z or 6:39pm local time.

You can check out all kinds of weather information at the website ADDS

Try your hand at tonight’s METAR for KSTC.  I know you can do it!

KSTC 280353Z 31025G33KT 10SM FEW026 OVC034 04/M01 A2977 RMK AO2 PK WND 29037/0321 SLP097 T00391006

A few clues …

280353-5 (for local time) = 10:53pm pm the 27th of October.

FEW means clouds reporting more than 0 to 2/8 cloud cover

M in 04/M01 means it is a sub-zero value.

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Posted by on October 27, 2010 in education, Flight training


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