A Couple of Laps Around the Patch

A weekend of new experiences and firsts…

First time I scheduled 2 days of flight training where the weather cooperated for both.  Not only cooperated in terms of being VFR but also being nothing more then a gentle breeze.  Not a lot of fun for drilling on general flight maneuvers within practical test standards but absolutely perfect for officially flying the pattern and FINALLY making the landing.

That was the plan and that’s what we did.

Day 1

Saturday was definitely the hot day so density altitude was going to be a factor.  First things first…heat in general was going to be a factor. I got to the field early and did the preflight. All things checked out. A text from my instructor said she would be about 15 minutes late.  No issue at all.  I decided to clean all the windows and spend some more soak time in the cockpit.  Considering it was already about 84F outside and at least 5F more than that in the cockpit, it turned out to be not the greatest of ideas.  By the time my instructor arrived I was already dripping with sweat. Mercifully, no comments were made and the cleaned windows were appreciated.  I later learned that that was actually expected…hey, I’d wash the planes if they wanted me to.

She confirmed the lesson for the day and we briefed on the ramp.


Now, I had read all of the relevant information on flying the pattern and landing an aircraft from the Airplane Flying Handbook and just about anything else I could get my hands on. Reading is easy.

Put it in context though with “real” data and things start to get a little blurry.

Definitely a lot of information but hey, that’s part of the process and I’m thirsty.

Time to fly…

The day is calm but the airport is already getting busy…including a few troops of boy scouts and some visiting Cessnas flying them around. So, I get an audience my first time.

Preflight (both outside and inside) is becoming much more flow oriented and efficient.  Must stay with the checklist though to ensure I don’t skip over anything.

On our first circuit I took off while my instructor demoed each maneuver. I managed the radios.  I’ve been doing the pattern and landing calls for the last several lessons so with the exception of “left closed traffic” all was familiar. So, as is typical, she does each move effortlessly and lands.

My turn…

I back taxi and line up.  We go through some of the basic steps and off we go.  Take off roll was decent.  I am convinced the whole right rudder thing is simply a matter of finesse, not unlike driving a standard transmission. You’ve just got to develop the right feel for the control movement.  Until then, however, there will be a lot of bumps, jolts, and other uncoordinated movements. In general though the mantra is to never get behind the airplane.

Take off…I was a little late pulling back on the yoke. I am attributing that (which means I am making an excuse at this point) to the fact that I am actively trying not to “steer” the plane with the yoke. Take off was also a little crooked…right rudder finesse again.

My instructor said that once climbing through about 300 feet to look back and check runway alignment. First time…I was off A LOT.  After that, I was able to adjust.

While each one was more tightly controlled the process then becomes:

1200 feet MSL (700AGL) turn left cross wind.
Complete climb to pattern altitude on the cross wind.
Turn left downwind, throttle to cruise, level off, and trim
Maintain horizontal distance to runway (It seemed calm but breeze out of the south was pushing me in the first few times)
Abeam the numbers, Carb heat on, power to 1500RPM
Airspeed in flap operating range, add 10 degrees.
Hold altitude while slowing to 70 knots.
Threshold 45 degrees off back of aircraft turn base.
20 degrees of flap, slow to 65
Still have to work on managing the descent rate at this point and airspeed. I was tending to be too high and too fast but of course, I’ll that right now over being too low and too slow.
Somewhere on base (still trying to figure out that one visually and am totally open to anyone who has any tried and true tricks) begin turn to final
Roll out on centerline, 30 degrees of flap and slow to 60

There’s of course the landing part after all of that, but not quite yet.

With all of the traffic in the area, our first 4 approaches turned into “low approaches” where we essentially learned how to go around. Seemed like each time we were getting into position to land, someone else was making a turn to base or was still clearing the runway. Frustrating but definitely ok to learn the procedure.

Lap 5 was the when we finally got down. I know I had a lot of help on that one but it was definitely one of “my” landings. Further down the runway and definitely a lot harder than normal but nothing that would make the emergency transmitter go off!

I did have a “WHOA” moment from the instructor on the first landing. Basically I forgot one simple instruction…


All I can say is that steering the plane with rudder, nose wheel steering,  AND differential brakes at the same time is WAY TOO EFFECTIVE! In a way it was also a VERY effective way to learn what NOT to do.

We flew the circuit again and landing 2 was again coming in a little high and fast. Not too bad though. That, however, was enough for the day.

In de-brief I was told I did very well. Certainly didn’t feel like it compared to all the other lessons I had but hey, I can now say I landed an airplane….and walked away from it. I was also told that normally she doesn’t let a student land the first time. Well, I am going to choose not to believe that but then maybe beam a little inside.

We confirmed the next day would be more of the same…and it was.

Practice makes perfect…but I still need a lot of practice. Day 2 was simply a refinement of Day 1. Those things I royally screwed up the first day were only minor issues on Day 2…which of course opened the door for a few new issues.

Takeoffs…still trying to get that balance between not steering with the yoke but still holding onto it because eventually you gotta use that thing to fly with. When the plane goes full throttle I find you kind of brace yourself against things in the cockpit.  Left elbow on the door as a pivot point to pull back the yoke. That was causing me to rotate the yoke to the right a little…does nothing on the ground but as soon as you get in ground effect you’re flying sideways.

Flare…I was told to flare when you are “hangar high”. Well, lots of different hangars of lots of different sizes so that visual isn’t yet working for me. Again, it’s a touch thing. I get the plane down to the right height but don’t have the feel yet for how far (or hard) to pull back on the yoke.  Right now it is too much…something I MUST correct soon. Since I am typically carrying a bit of extra airspeed, that too hard pull back and flare isn’t hurting me (or the airplane) too much.  If anything it gets me in a good attitude and at a proper height to just hold until the plane settles. I know there is that zone though where if I have the airspeed right but flare too much I’ll be out of flight at the wrong height.  From there we would just plop down which is not good…would need to monitor 121.5 after something like that…and look for some terrified or laughing boy scouts.

So 2 lessons, 7 official landings and an Exhausting Awesomeness which was worth every penny.

Only 1 lesson next week before a break. If calm, more landings. If not so calm, we finally get to go to another airport. Not officially a cross country but small amount of navigation and my first experience in Class C to a towered airport. Country mouse gets to go to the Big City.

Aside from that….
Medicals scheduled, last cramming for the FAA knowledge test, and pre-solo written test in hand (didn’t expect that one so soon). Can’t wait.



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