After the 1.5 week business trip it was time to get back into pattern practice. Well, that was my hope at least. Last time I was away for an extended period both my instructor and I agreed that it may be better to do a little refresher course on basic air work. That time, I was happy with decision simply because I was able to demonstrate that I remained acceptably “fresh” on those skills. BACK TO THE PATTERN!
So, this time around, if the topic came up, I was ready to make my argument for more landings.
Saturday was a rainout.
Ahh, but I know that cruel trick of Mother Nature so I had already scheduled Sunday morning as well. The hope is always to get both lessons in. The expectation is to get one in. The reality..well, sometimes I go 0-2.
Sunday was clear so we were on. Preparations for my “let’s do landings” argument were not required. After the normal greetings, she said, “We’re staying in the pattern today.”
Thinking back over the last session for 10 days I had a few questions prior to the flight.
1) Threshold speed. A stabilized approach is definitely required. No question there at all. For me, that has meant establishing 70 knots and around 500 fpm descent starting the process abeam the touchdown point on downwind. On short final though we go 30 degrees of flaps and start pulling back throttle to idle. My question was what speed to cross the threshold at. The standard answer had been 70 knots which I thought was too fast and MAY be contributing to the floating / roundout issues I was having (nevermind my continuing lack of touch!).
From the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook, Chapter 8: Base leg is recommended to be 1.4 Vso and final should be 1.3 Vso. So, Vso on the 172 is 43 knots so those speeds are 60 knots and 56 knots respectively. Recommended is the operative word and personally, at least right now…that’s too slow and doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. I believe my instructor is of the mindset that it is better to carry a little extra speed over the runway and then bleed it off then to not have enough and find yourself in a cornfield. Not going to argue that too much but she did say we could try closer to 65 knots. That’s best glide speed which is what we would use for an engine off emergency procedure (which I know is coming) and makes sense. So now…I would just have to prove I could get the plane to that speed in a stabilized descent.
Second question: Given the above threshold conditions, where on the runway would the expected touchdown point be?
My runway has a 1/3 marking which is effectively the “touchdown by” mark. To be honest, I haven’t dutifully kept track of where the airplane landed (busy working on the actual landing which perhaps is the problem) but my impression has always been that it’s too far. She pointed at a spot on the runway which was right around that mark. Again, I thought that was too far but I think that’s where it is at this point in the training. I am just thinking ahead to precision and short field landings. So, we agreed to pay attention to that this time around.
Only other instructions I was given was to not focus too much on the roundout and flare..huh? That’s where the problem is. Stabilized approach first, then develop the picture. Then fly to that picture.
Off we go…
Although this isn’t saying a whole lot at this point, there was definitely NO rust developed over the time off. I had thought through the process and visualized it so much that it was almost automatic. That’s EXACTLY what I was waiting for. By no means does this mean I am not paying attention, in fact, I couldn’t be more aware of what was going on…it’s just that the information processing is just happening in my mind by image, not words. SO MUCH FASTER. Along with the image is a certain repeatable feel. Where your elbow is, how your hand rests on the throttle but has a finger out initially to also add carb heat. And, when starting the descent, when to lower the nose and how much trim to add. I just did it, reacting to the picture, not thinking about numbers.
65 turned out to be a pretty good speed although I have to make a few adjustments to establish and hold there. Easier to hold though on final and when I came over the threshold, the slower speed made the transition easier. The landings were not perfect but there wasn’t one of the 5 which was groan / cringe worthy.
Landing spot was just before the 1/3 mark so essentially, right where she said.
Three other things of note:
1) Around the 4th loop of 7 (which included 2 go-arounds) I noticed she had her hands in her lap and went quiet during the landing. I asked her about it afterwards. My impression was it was a good thing…or I was completely boring. She basically said, “If I’m not talking, everything is going correctly and right now I am saying things to you for correction far in advance of you noticing it or it being a problem.” So, that’s essentially a really good thing.
2) There were actually variable crosswinds. Without briefing, this was my first time having to crab in for the landing. We even did a small forward slip. Definitely a different experience vs. the calm days but somehow it just came instinctively. In a way, I liked having more to work on than less. Keeps you in the moment.
2) On number 6 I had the approach nailed. I mean, I don’t think I could have had it set up any better. From the base to final turn, the plane was right where it needed to be. Didn’t need to make any adjustments. Just as my mind was shifting to the touchdown she perks up and says “Cow on the runway, go around, go around!”
Man, I was really looking forward to making that landing but hey, gotta protect the cows. Nice to know she’s ready to begin throwing in the emergency procedures.
3) When we started the lesson, she said she would handle the radio calls. “You focus on flying”. So on the ground I made the calls, in the air she was talking. On the go around and the last loop I took a little initiative. As soon as I had the plane cleaned up and in a positive rate of climb I beat her to the mic and made the going around call. From there on in I made all the radio calls with no complaint from her, and, more importantly, no verbal fumbling from me. That was significant too because previously, I had no mental power available to do that.
De-Brief: As always, she asked if I had any questions. I just wanted to know how I am doing. She said it was a very good day of flying and far better than she expected due to the time off. Like I said, I had done a LOT of mental work in advance of this one. Because I am not yet bold enough to ask about soloing directly I simply asked if I am “converging” properly. She understood…answer was “Yes, you are converging quite nicely.”
I need to get bolder.
Next lesson is this weekend but weather is iffy. We’ll see.