Ok, so it finally happened. I say finally but in reality it hasn’t been a long time coming. But it’s good to have it under my belt.
Saturday…weather was VERY nice. Sunny, clear, a little wind (to keep everyone honest), and a pleasant temperature. My track record of having scheduled flights actually occurring has been increasing. Flight was on.
I got there a few minutes early as is my normal routine. Originally, the schedule said my instructor was not scheduled between 1 and 2 which meant things should all be on time. However, when I got to the hangar I could hear her working with another student up in the classroom. From the window, it looked like they were doing some simulator work. Small panic…simulator work on a perfect weather day??? Was there something wrong with the plane?
The hangar door was open so I walked out on the tarmac. I had my radio on to get an idea of what was going on on and around the field. I looked down the ramp and saw the plane. It was all tied down. Looked normal but then again, I thought it had a flight earlier in the day. I wouldn’t have expected them to get it all tied down again. Hmm…don’t overthink.
Radio crackled. Inbound flight. It was Life Lion. It’s our local ambulance helicopter. Always cool and impressive to see that thing coming in. Sadly, they are a very busy crew.
Around 7 minutes after my scheduled start time, my instructor poked her head out the door and said she was just finishing up. She gave me a lock combination and said to go to Hangar 4, grab the book for the Cessna and go get started on pre-flight.
Ok. So, I start off walking past the other hangars. Until then, I hadn’t ever walked back towards the office. Our current hangar was 14. As I walked towards the office, the numbers went downward. 12, 10, 9?, 6…office. Hmm. Ran out of buildings. I stopped in the office since it was open. Unoccupied but they did have a field map. No hangar 4. Wondering if this was a prank. It was an old drawing so I thought maybe it was further down the other way. Walked all the way down to the other end. Got up to 22 and was at the plane. Nope. So I walked back to our hangar. She pokes her head out and asks if I have everything. Sadly, I announced I’ve now failed seatbelts, keys (from flight 2), and now hangars. A laugh. We walk back towards the office…this time on the runway side and sure enough…hangar 4. I guess some of the hangars are subdivided front and back. 4 just happened to be one of those. Book was right where it was supposed to be. My instructor saw a few other people there she knew and started a conversation. I was off to go pre-flight.
No major issues with pre-flight. Had most of the exterior done by the time she arrived. A couple of questions satisfactorily answered and we were in the plane. Going through the inside checklist. Passenger Brief. I took the opportunity to tell her we hadn’t discussed yet what we would do today. We went over a couple of items from last flight and what we would do this time around. From last flight I wanted to work on altitude hold. She looked at me a little strange. I just mentioned she had said I should work on it. Still looking at me strange. All I said afterwards was that I wanted a minute or two after the initial climb to get the plane set up for cruise. I think during the last flight I rushed into the first maneuvers before I had the plane properly trimmed and the I was chasing altitude the whole hour. Ok. A review of some of the previous skills, 360 turns, climbs, descents, power off stalls. New items, takeoff and slow flight. Given my “left” tendency during the first taxi practice I did think we might do one or two “high speed” taxis just to make sure I could keep it centered during the take off roll but there was no mention of that.
So, we move into the run up position. Instrument checks. It is around this time when the relatively quiet airport sprung to life. 2 inbound flights, including one of her students doing his long cross country solo and 3 of us now waiting for takeoff. She was working the radio and looking outside to make sure everyone was coordinated. When you don’t have a tower this is how it works. Second challenge is that the wind had just shifted favoring using the runway in the opposite direction. First guy lands on 28, student then switches to 10. Outbound flights now set for 10. I went through the rest of the checks (well at least I thought I did) and we were ready to go. One of the other waiting planes was getting antsy so she said as soon as the landing plane was clear she would take us down the runway for the line up. Basically…she was going to do it MUCH quicker than normal so the one antsy plane didn’t try and cut in front. Ok.
We get down to the end of the runway, turn around and line up. She makes the radio call and tells me, “your airplane” and let’s go. Full throttle. I knew you weren’t supposed to just jamb the thing to the firewall (i.e. floor it) so I eased it in. I guess I didn’t push it all the way so she gave me a quick reminder there. Plane was accelerating nicely, tracking reasonably well down the center of the runway. It turns out that all controls work better at higher speed. We hit 55 knots rotation speed and she tells me to add back pressure to the elevator. Nose lifts off, build up a little airspeed in ground effect, add a little more right rudder to keep the plan flying straight and then raise the nose and climb at around 70 knots. Success. About 15 seconds in it hit me. It was all over. Because of the traffic we were kind of expedited to get out so no real time to go over things and/or over think it. Just get on the runway and go. I kind of laughed…she looked at me and I said something like “It all happened so fast..it’s all over.” She actually apologized for the expedite but I said as long as I did it correctly, that’s all that mattered. She said I did a fine job.
We got to pattern altitude and it was time to turn to the north so we could exit the pattern and go out to the practice area. I turn to a heading of north and then realize something isn’t right. Living in the valley, it is very easy to know which direction you are going. Mountains north, and mountains south. Plane says it was flying north but we were not pointed squarely at the mountains. Crap. I missed one instrument check. Kind of an important one too. Heading Indicator. Prior to take off and every hour during flight you have to re-align it with the magnetic compass. It’s no big deal to fix it during flight like we did BUT, you want that correct before you take off. It’s my note for next flight.
With that fixed, we were off to the practice area. Altitude hold. Got it. I was right. It was just a matter of me taking an extra minute to get it dialed in. Once there things stay very stable.
Turns were routine. I would like to try and keep the angle of bank more consistent through the turn but they were all pretty good and ended up right where they were supposed to be.
Stalls. I believe I’ve got the initiation part right. Last time I wasn’t holding the nose up with enough back pressure so the stall was taking longer to get into. No problem now that I know how much you have to pull back. Maybe a little work on the recovery. I guess I am still a little steep on the pitch forward. It’s kind of fun to go roller coasting with it but the recovery should be smooth. Also helps to prevent the plane from entering a spin.
My experiment was with the rudder pedals. I just wanted to try each one to full deflection while level. It was the only way for me to know how much of an impact would happen. After I did it I simply said, “I got it” now. It meant I now knew how the airplane would feel. That was still the missing point. Visually, the simulator was quite accurate but the feel was important. Why? Because with the feel you get an instinct about which control input is required (and how much) to get the airplane to do what you want. While you will still reference the instruments, it is the feel and sound which allow you to make the maneuver work. Very cool to have that kind of click. Same goes with throttle.
Slow flight. This is some of the prep work to get me ready to fly the actual traffic pattern and landing. Slow flight for us was at 3500 feet. From there, basically slow down the airplane and get it into something close to an approach configuration. This is around 60 knots with half the flaps. From there the exercise is to manage airspeed with attitude (pitch) and manage altitude with throttle. It’s a little backwards to normal flight but makes perfect sense when you are doing it. I think I got through this exercise very well. Performance was to maintain airspeed, altitude, and heading. Heading was simple because I had the benefit of being lined up with 3 Mile Island. Just keep it pointed at the stacks and you don’t have to look at the compass. After that it was more fine tuning with the throttle. Shallow turns as well.
We head back to the airport. She has me manage everything down to traffic pattern altitude and I fly the upwind portion and make the crosswind turn to then enter the downwind. Crap. When she took the plane to fly the final approach she had to make a petty big correction. My brains was in simulator mode where I would already be letting the plane settle down in altitude. Not this time. We weren’t fully in the pattern and she wanted it at that altitude. I was off by 2-3 hundred feet. Flustered. No big deal to recover but I wanted to nail altitude. Note for next time. My flusteration continued into the radio calls which I was then doing. Got used to runway 28 but now on runway 10. Other direction, other number, other visual look. I didn’t botch it too much but kept saying runway ten. Supposed to say runway one zero. Oh well…that I can recover from as well.
Next lesson…more slow flight (“even slower”), more basics, and maybe some pattern work.
Let the weather watch begin.