Tuesday Mar 17, 2009

first instrument approach

It's been a while since I had any dual (instruction) time -- since
August -- so I went up on Saturday with my primary instructor, Tim.
The plans were a little vague; just brush up on everything.

He had me do a couple of steep turns first. On the first one, I held
altitude, but then forgot to pull out the extra power on rolling out.
On the second, I didn't get the power in soon enough. It's obvious
that I'm a little rusty there, but it wasn't too bad.

Next was some engine-out practice into Plum Island. On the first
attempt, I managed to get myself abeam the numbers at 1000 feet and
really pretty well set up. But then I bungled the rest of the
landing, as I turned base too soon, didn't slip enough, and couldn't
bleed off enough altitude to make a good landing. Rather than
overshoot, I went around. Someone had just taxied off the runway and
he thought I was aborting the landing because of him, so Tim had to
explain that we'd blown it ourselves and he wasn't to blame.

I tried again. I came in a little better, but still too high. Tim
took the controls and put us right down to maybe 50 feet; perhaps
less. With full flaps, we still ended up with a lot of speed, but I
was able to make a decent landing from there. Lesson learned: don't
worry so much about a stable approach; worry instead about getting on
the ground at the best possible spot.

On taking off out of Plum Island, he had me put on the hood and head
for the Isles of Shoals. He called up Boston Approach and got us a
practice ILS 34 into PSM. My first instrument approach! They
vectored me for intercepting the localizer at 3000 feet, and I managed
to do that part without too much incident. I even started a stable
descent without trouble.

But staying within the lateral bounds is much harder indeed. We
wandered back and forth, and once or twice Boston called us and said
"we're showing you to the left of course" or "we're showing you to the
right of course." There really ought to be a "student driver" button
on the transponder ... they must have thought we were drunk. In any
event, I was able to wander in towards the runway, and at about 500
feet, Tim had me take the hood off. Like magic, the runway was right
in front of us. I was surprised and disoriented enough that I had
trouble maintaining my previously reasonable approach, bounced twice,
forgot about the crosswind, and ultimately made the right choice by
rejecting the landing.

Still, a really good experience.

We then went back to LWM under the hood, and he had me do the VOR
approach for 23. This involved a lot more work than the ILS, with a
couple of intermediate altitudes to fly and hold while waiting for
certain positions. After I was at the MDA for a bit, he had me take
off the hood. The runway was a bit to my right, but I made a half-way
decent landing.

It was about 1.5 hours of work, and a lot of good practice.

Friday Aug 29, 2008

Checkride!

I suppose the title of this entry gives too much away.

This morning at around 8:30AM, I went to Eagle East. Tim and I looked through the required documentation, the plane's records, and did the checklist to make sure everything was in order. By 9, there wasn't anything left to do but to fly to Portsmouth.

I headed out to PSM at 2500. The airport was busy, with a jet taking off as I was inbound, and an Arrow to follow me. I landed on 34, and taxied off Alpha to November and to the former Pan Am Services to park. I was getting nervous, and I almost held up the Arrow departing the runway. We both parked, and it turned out that was Don.

We talked first about how things would go, and what he was expecting out of me. His last words before going into "test mode" were that I was already a pilot, and all I had to do here was keep my certificate.

The oral exam was easy. We started with the paperwork issues, what you need to be legal, what the airplane must have, and so on. He had a couple of odd questions (such as tire pressure), and then we were on our way.

On the ground, he's your friend. In the air, he's all business. We started off with a power-on stall under the hood, then tracking a VOR. We then went to the East a bit and did a 720 steep turn. Then a few power-off stalls at 1500 feet. Then we descended to 1000 feet and did a couple turns about a point.

Next, it was off to Skyhaven. This is where I started getting in trouble. I was all over the place on my altitude, and he was taking it personally. "That'll be a violation." I just did what I could to hold myself in place, but it was tough. I think 80% of it was nerves and maybe 20% weather (the high pressure made for unstable air and a lot of thermals). We went into the pattern and did some short-field and soft-field take-offs and landings. On that part, he was all over me for being too willing to talk on the radio -- it's aviate first, then navigate, and way after that, communicate.

After a few passes of that, we headed back to Portsmouth. I was right on 1100 feet as we came in. In landing, I made my base too short (and too high), and I was left of the centerline. He was all over me on \*that\*. "There's no excuse." And he's right. As he got out of the plane, he asked if I had a cell phone with me. I said I did. He said, "call your wife and tell her you're a pilot; you didn't lose your certificate."

I'm wiped out. I know what I need to practice from now on in order to get better. But I'm now officially a Private Pilot, ASEL (Airplane Single-Engine Land). In the picture below are Beth, me, Benjamin, and Madeline. And, of course, 61976.

Wednesday Aug 13, 2008

good practice

Since my last posting, I've been doing some more dual test prep work. I went up with Gary once as a practice checkride (some areas good, some not so much), then twice with Tim. Today was my first solo in about a month. I did a soft-field take-off (partly because I was head of landing traffic, and it'd take less time) and headed out to the practice area, and did a couple of clearing turns. Then I tried a 720 degree steep turn to the right. Not so good -- I had trouble keeping altitude, but my roll-out was right on. I did a couple more clearing turns, and then did three 360 degree steep turns -- two to the left and one to the right. On each one, I rolled out on my heading, right at my entry altitude, and I hit my own wake turbulence each time. It was incredible! The first time it happened, I was momentarily surprised (did I just run over a cat?), but when I realized it, I yelled. I then went down to 1000 feet and practiced several turns about a point using a blue water tower that's just west of Plum Island. I tried to keep it in tight (as Tim has been demanding), hold altitude, scan for traffic, and keep track of fields near the tower that could be used in an emergency. After a few turns, I rolled out to the southeast, and called Lawrence. Straight in for 23, I did a short-field landing that probably could have been better. I went back up into closed traffic, doing a forward slip and a soft-field landing. I was to the left of the centerline, and a bit slow on touchdown (which made the flare less substantial), but not bad. I parked and called it a day. I'm planning to go up with Sean some time soon (perhaps Saturday), and get some more checkride simulation. It won't be too long until I'm headed to Portsmouth for the test.

Wednesday Jul 16, 2008

last required item

Last night, I spent some quality time with xfig and drew up some cross-country flight logs for use with my trip to Keene, NH (KEEN). They fold nicely for my kneeboard and have all the information I need.

My plan was to challenge myself a bit more. I'd check the wind en route and see what I could do with checkpoints. That was the plan, at least, and I'm happy to say that I learned something, although not what I was planning to learn.

First off, the weather wasn't cooperating. It's beautiful here -- perfectly clear skies, almost unlimited visibility (as much as I'd expect in summer), and no wind. At all. All the way up to 9000 feet, BOS was forecasting 9900.

So much for calculating wind, which is really just as well. I had no trouble on the flight out staying on the EEN VOR radial and pulling checkpoints from GDM, but getting an accurate enough time source was problematic. The plane's clock is near-unreadable except for short timings (good for timing out a turn under the hood, but not good for checkpoints a few minutes apart), and neither my watch nor cell phone (set to "flight," which turns off the radio) has sweep-second.

Getting magnetic heading and temperature (the latter for TAS) was no problem. Working the whiz wheel while scanning for traffic -- not so good. It's much easier at the kitchen table. I think that if I were in a real bind, I could probably manage it, but I'd probably be better off getting the raw numbers and then landing early to replan the rest of the trip. Assuming I'm doing this for fuel calculation purposes anyway when dealing with an unexpected wind, setting down and getting more fuel and perhaps calling an FSS fixes all problems at once.

So, it looks like I'll probably want to get some kind of fancy computer for the usual case. At least now I know what sorts of features I need for it to be useful.

The other interesting note was about comfort. It was 32+C on the surface this morning (90+F), and rising, but as soon as I got up above 3000 feet, it cooled way down, to about 18C. It occurred to me that this is just a feature of a high-pressure system: descending air is going to bring with it cooler temperatures from above, and that means a more rapid than normal lapse rate on ascending. I don't remember reading that in any of the books (or in ground school), but it seems quite logical, and it's nice to know.

At EEN, I met up with what appeared to be a local pilot talking with a Cessna aircraft salesman. The latter was showing off a really nice looking Skyhawk SP with G1000 screens. I asked the pilot to sign my log book, and a few other folks (the pilot's wife and some other guy) showed up to introduce themselves. We talked for a couple of minutes. The pilot told me that they're moving the terminal to the other side of the field soon. I thanked them, and went back to go home.

The trip back home was mostly uneventful. I couldn't pick up Boston Approach on the outer frequency for EEN -- probably because they were extremely busy -- so rather than pester them I waited until I was in range for 124.9, and I stayed with them until I was about over Lowell. I was a little distracted by staying clear of Pepperell (jumping possibly active), and I had to reorient myself once on the LWM VOR, but I had the field in sight (and told Boston so) when they kissed me goodbye.

Total time was 2.0. That's probably about 1.2 in the air, and as much as 0.8 taxiing around and doing run-up. In any event, I've got the last piece of the requirements puzzle, and I now have to talk to Tim about doing practice checkrides and then scheduling the real thing.

Saturday Jul 12, 2008

brushing up

It's been a few weeks since I last flew, so I was expecting this solo practice to be a bit rough. I started out with some minor problems during pre-flight: the fuel hadn't been topped off since the last flight, and the pilot-side window was sticking. I ordered some fuel and found a way to maneuver the window into closing.

I had listened to the scanner before driving in, and it sounded busy. It turned out that there was a fly-in at EAA, so as soon as I switched from getting ATIS (all in one shot this time; my first one-shot copy ever) to ground, I heard a lot of directions and chatter. I waited for my moment and then called "Lawrence Ground, Cessna 61976, at Eagle East, with Information Oscar." The someone else made another call, and the tower answered them before getting to me. "Taxi to runway 5 via Alpha, winds are 110 at 8, caution: mower adjacent to taxiway."

This is my first clue that something is up: the winds are 60 degrees off of the runway, and they're not switching. They have a line of people coming in, one after another, and 5 is the longer runway. I start my taxi and wave to the guy on the mower so he knows I see him. I start my run-up, and I listen as some guys come in to land making position calls as though they were at an untowered field. I chuckle to myself and imagine what the controller must think. "Uh, yeah, Piper, I can \*see\* that you're on short final." It's good to know that it works both ways, and my discomfort with untowered airports is similar to theirs.

I announce that I'm ready, eastbound, and get my clearance. As I taxi out to the runway, I wrestle that window closed. I'm going to need to say something about that. I do one last glance at the oil gauge, then put in the power and, after a short roll, check to see that airspeed is alive. I then remember the crosswind and put the wheel most of the way to the right. I lift off into what has to be my best take-off ever. I'm right on the runway heading the whole way up.

I then headed out to the practice area at 2000 feet. I do two clearing turns, slow down a bit for maneuvering, and I tune in the CTAF. There are a few folks coming in and out at Plum; it's busier than I've ever seen. I head out towards the coast and start doing a steep turn to the right. I go around 720 degrees and roll out on my heading, but I've lost 200 feet -- twice the standard.

I remind myself to put in power during the turn. I then try 720 degrees to the left. This time, I lose 100 feet, but then end up climbing out as I forget to pull the power back out.

Well, this is why we practice. So I try something harder. I do another clearing turn, and I spot traffic above and to the south, traveling west. It doesn't seem a factor. I roll into a steep right turn and apply about 300RPM. After 360 degrees, I roll left into a steep turn. There's a brief moment when I'm less than coordinated, but it turns out well. I do another 360 degrees and I'm about 50 feet off of my original altitude. This is better.

I then do some slow flight and maneuvering with partial flaps. I climb up to 2500 feet and do one convincing power-off stall before heading back to home.

They give me a right downwind for runway 5. I descend early enough that I'm well set up for pattern altitude and airspeed before the time I get there. As usual, though, I end up a bit too tight. The tower gives me clearance before I can even make the midfield call. The wind is now 140 at 8 -- a direct crosswind. I pull the power early, before the numbers. I know that with no headwind, I'm going to be high. My base is almost non-existent and I end up a bit to the left of the runway and high. I pull all the power, put in full flaps and bring it right down. I'm at 70 over the numbers, and I land cleanly, though to the left of the centerline (why am I \*always\* left, no matter where the wind is?). I finish off the crosswind by turning the wheel to the right while slowing to taxi, and I need a bit of power to get off at Delta.

I taxi off, and we're busy enough to be like a real airport. The controller gives me a frequency for ground, and I have to contact them to go park. I clean up, get clearance, and park right on the centerline.

All that was just 0.9 on the Hobbs. After I settle the rental, I let them know about the sticky window. I'm getting a bit more confidence that I can get to the practical test soon. I have to get the sequencing down for those performance maneuvers so that I'm well within the requirements, though.

On Wednesday, I'm planning to go to KENE (Keene, NH) for a solo cross-country. I need another 0.7 worth of solo cross-country time, and that ought to do it. After that, it's probably some practice checkrides with Tim and maybe another of Eagle's CFIs.

Friday Jul 11, 2008

one test down

I've been attending the ground school at Eagle East over the past 14 weeks, and it's an intense effort, especially at the end. There are a lot of random things to memorize (why 10 days to report an accident?), some skills to practice (finding wind correction from course and wind data, finding wind speed and direction from measured course progress), and quite a few things to learn in depth (such as weather).

It paid off, though. I got my sign-off on Wednesday by taking a practice test, and this morning, I went to Eagle East's CATS center, and finished the real FAA test. I missed four questions, giving me a 93%. I wish I'd done better (of course), but I'm quite satisfied with both the results and the help that Eagle's ground school (Sean and Don) gave me. I'm sure I would not have done nearly as well just by reading the books alone.

Between ground school, vacation, and other things, I've been away from flying for several weeks now. I plan to go up tomorrow morning and file off some of the rust before completing my requirements for the practical test.

Friday Jun 13, 2008

more hood work

Today was a bit cooler than Monday, around 80F instead of 90+. He had me do a short-field take-off, and I think I was up in about 700 feet or so. The one thing he caught me at was that I wasn't checking the gauges before releasing the brakes.

Tim is starting to transition from "instructor" to "examiner" on these trips. For this one, he had me put on the hood at 500 feet, and we headed out to the practice area. We practiced holding a heading and controlling airspeed. He then had me take off my hood, and he said, "you're out of the clouds, but your day just got worse: your engine is out," and he pulled the power.

I trimmed for best glide, and looked around. In front and to the left was Hampton, which is a grass strip. I had no idea where I was, so I'm glad that Tim took over making the calls as we approached, though, really, I do need the real-world practice in making those position reports. I was way too high, so I made a standard-rate turn to the right, and came out exactly in position to land. I was on a decent approach (as best I could tell), but Tim "helped" the landing.

Tim did criticize my maneuver. I shouldn't be turning away from the field, even if I can make it come out ok. Instead, I should head right for it, and then circle my way down.

We taxied around, with a Cub landing behind us, and got into a position to take off again, this time with a real soft field. I made my calls, and he had me go through the pattern once. The first time we came around, I was way too high, so I just went around again. The second time, I was much better, though perhaps a little low. I landed cleanly, though.

Then I taxied back and took off again, and the hood went back on. We went east, and then south, and practiced some stalls. One started falling towards a spin, but I got the nose down, kicked the opposite rudder hard, and got back out. Then the hood came off again, and he said, "engine out." After trimming to best glide and running through a slightly better (though still flawed) mock restart procedure, I looked around, and I said, "I know where I am here; that's Plum Island up ahead." I headed towards it, and started slipping to lose the altitude I needed to lose.

Tim didn't quite like that, and I was perhaps still a bit too high. He took the controls and did a 45-to-60 degree bank in a circle to lose a bunch of altitude. He gave it back to me, and I landed without much trouble. I made the calls, taxied back, and did a short-field take-off. This one turned out quite nice.

Then the hood went back on, and we headed back to Lawrence. On the way, he had me do unusual attitude recovery. He said that the traditional way to do this is to have the student close his eyes, then the instructor does something crazy, and the student tries to fix it afterwards. He said that this is just unrealistic; nobody's going to do that to you in real life. In real life, you're going to get distracted while you're in the clouds -- maybe talking to ATC -- and _you_ are going to mess up the plane's attitude.

So the procedure was that I closed my eyes, and he called out a series of maneuvers for me to perform. First a standard-rate turn to the right. Then a turn to the left. Then a climbing turn to the left. Then leveling out. He had me open my eyes, and I looked at the instruments. The airspeed was stable, and the wings were tilted a bit. I fixed that, and then said, "uh, it looks like I'm done." He said he was a little disappointed, because I didn't get nearly as messed up during the eyes-out part as I should have. Oh well!

We went back to Lawrence under the hood, and he had me take the hood off in the downwind. He wanted me to do a power-off accuracy landing, and hit the 500' mark. I did ok on making the approach without power, but I was long on the landing because I tried to keep it too tight. I don't have that judgment yet -- I haven't practiced power-off much.

I'm on the schedule for next Friday. I plan to do a solo cross-country if the weather holds. Right now, they're calling for poor weather, but that always changes. This is the last required item on the list. I need to do a good bit of practice, and maybe some more prep time, but the requirements are just about done.

Sunday Jun 08, 2008

the "f" in "I'm safe"

Tim and I went up to knock off some of that simulated instrument time I still need, and to get some flight test prep time, as I think I'm getting close to taking the test.

We started with a soft-field take-off from Lawrence, which was a bit shaky. I haven't practiced this in a while.

The temperature in the morning was pushing 90, and it just got hotter as the day went. We headed out to Portsmouth first, putting on the hood at 500 feet AGL. Tim had me do the approach and descent to about 500 feet before I could take the hood off again. A quick side-step, and I landed without trouble -- not too hard to do with an 11000 foot runway.

We taxied off, and Tim pointed out where I'll go for my practical test, then we sweltered in a run-up area while I set the radios up for a short trip to an untowered airport for practice.

I sounded like a rank beginner when I got there. I think it was mostly the heat -- and fatigue -- that caused this. I keyed the microphone, let out a huge "uuuhhh" and proceeded to give one position report after another that left big question marks in the sky. Sigh. An uneventful landing, then another soft-field, but a little better.

Then more hood work on the way back to Lawrence. Somewhere near Portsmouth (I can always tell where that is by the turbulence), he had me do a stall and recovery. It's nerve-wracking under the hood, because I can't see where the nose is going, so I have more worry about spinning. In recovery, I forgot the carb heat, and Tim let me know it.

I then used the VOR to get back to Lawrence, and took off the hood at around 1000 feet. We were at 1.9 hours total time (around 1.2 under the hood), and I was drenched in sweat. I'm feeling a little more confident, though.

Friday Jun 06, 2008

raining again

Another rainy day here in North Andover. I went to Eagle East with the hope of getting a picture of Cleo (Tim's dog) for my son's class project, but neither was there. I just updated the schedule to go back on Monday morning, and I hope we'll get some good time in. The forecast calls for a high of 94, but maybe the morning won't be too bad.

Thursday May 29, 2008

catching up

I'm posting this a bit late, as I've had a couple of busy weeks.

I mostly needed to get rid of some of the rust that had accumulated since doing my night work, so I headed out to the practice area by myself for a little practice, taking off from runway 14.

I started with two clearing turns, then did one standard-rate 360 degree turn to the right, and then one to the left. I had planned to do some steep turns, but it was getting a bit bumpy, and I was unsure of myself, so I skipped that.

I then headed down to 1000 feet AGL, just west of Plum Island, while listening to the CTAF. There's a nice blue water tower that's by itself, and I did several turns about a point with the tower as a reference. There was some wind from the southeast, so this was good practice.

I then went south to do some S-turns above I95. Nothing special there, but I did what I could to make my transitions between turns smooth and on-time.

It was time to head back to LWM. The tower gave me a left downwind to 14, so I entered the pattern near the cat-in-the-hat water tank. My approach was less than perfect, and I was a bit high on final. I put in 40 flaps and just brought it down.

The whole time I was out there, I just felt a bit off. Partly, it was the time since the last flight. Another big part was the time of day -- afternoon rather than morning. Still another was the heat; it was stifling. But it was just one of those days.

I need to get some time with Tim, do some more hood work, and practice up for the test.

Tuesday May 13, 2008

night moves

The last night flying I did was quite a while ago. On that trip, I got just two take-offs and landings to a full stop. So, per the regulations, I needed another 8 in my log book.

I scheduled time with Tim tonight in 61976 (my usual plane), starting at 8:30PM, and I got to the airport at about 8:20. Civil Twilight today started at 8:31. If I'd been thinking about it, I probably would have scheduled for 8PM. It always takes at least a half hour more than I expect to do the pre-flight, run through the checklist, get clearance, do the run-up, and get ready to roll. By the time we headed out of runway 5, it was almost 9PM, and the tower was closing down the pattern.

So, we headed off to Beverly. I flubbed the navigation a bit -- the top VOR with the integrated controls sometimes doesn't like me -- but with the airport only 13 miles away, it was easy enough to find the beacon visually. I made a straight-in approach to runway 16, then taxied back to go up again.

It was a nice, cool, clear, and calm night. We had had strong gusting winds all day, but they were predicting that they'd die down by evening, and they were quite right. At least I didn't have to correct for wind too much in an unfamiliar pattern at night -- with the PCL timer cutting out on me every now and then just to make things interesting.

We went around the pattern five times, taxing out to the other end each time to take off in the other direction; a luxury afforded by the lack of wind, and probably a good thing for the neighbors. On the last landing, he had me land with lights out to simulate an alternator failure. It's hard to judge the ground like that, and I came down a bit firmly.

We headed back to Lawrence about two minutes to 10. They close the tower at 10, so we came in doing position calls. I picked runway 32 (approximately straight in) for my first approach. My reasoning was that I could \*see\* the runway in front of me, and I was already low enough to make a good flaps-and-lights-out approach. Tim pointed out that it was the short and narrow runway, and that I should have gone in the pattern. I came in, made a sloppy sort of slip, and landed hard again.

We taxied out to the far end and turned around to take off on 14. I went up and turned left into the downwind for 23. I made my position calls, then turned base. I was a touch high, and Tim said to slip it. I eased into the best slip I've ever done. The nose pivoted to the right, I stayed right on the track I wanted, and I got at least 1200 fpm descent, right to the runway. I let out the slip, flared, and landed firmly (again without lights), but pretty much where I wanted.

I taxied off at Alpha near the approach end of 5, after taxing the long way down the runway. Tim said I did the best I've done so far, and I told him about Sean's advice regarding trim.

That's it; my full 10 landings are done. On to the next item to check off.

Monday May 05, 2008

more practice

A clear day with no wind: a good time to practice those landings. What I've discovered is that if there's a headwind, it'll slow your actual ground speed, and being a little fast on approach won't make much difference for the ground roll. Every landing looks good. But on a calm day, you have to be as slow as you can make it, or you'll have trouble. Plus, I tend to be a little anxious to turn base as soon as I'm able, and that can easily set me up with too much energy for the rest of the landing. So, as contrary as it seems, it's the calm days, not the windy ones, that are the tougher. (A tailwind is far harder still.)

I headed out to the practice area, did a couple of slow and deliberate clearing turns while practicing my scanning, and then entered slow flight. First with 10 degrees of flaps, then 20, and trimmed down to 60 MPH. I did a few turns in slow flight, and one power-off stall, and then headed back.

The tower gave me a right downwind entry for runway 5, so I made my descent towards pattern altitude and came in. I intentionally kept it a bit slow -- 90 MPH -- so that I had time to think about how close I was (spacing out that downwind is tough if you don't have the rhythm and mental picture of the turn when the numbers hit 45 degrees) and line up my ground track. I then proceeded to make a somewhat high but doable approach using full flaps. I ended up getting permission from the tower to turn off at the runway intersection and taxi back. Obviously, I landed longer than I wanted.

I taxied back to the start, and tried a short-field takeoff. I set the breaks, applied full power, and then rotated up as soon as I could. Then nose down a little in order to get to a normal Vy. I was off before the touchdown zone, so I think I did fairly well. On approach, I tried to do a short-field landing as well. I got the airspeed right and was able to get off at Delta, but I touched down longer than I'd want.

I taxied back and tried a soft-field takeoff. I set 10 degrees of flaps while waiting at the hold short line. Then I taxied out and, without stopping or slowing, made a turn to the runway centerline and brought up full power. I tried to hold the elevator back a bit so that I was keeping pressure off the front wheel. Just as with Plumb Island long ago, I had trouble keeping it in ground effect as I was supposed to do. It just wants to fly. I got up to a couple of hundred feet, accelerated to 85, and retracted flaps.

For this last landing, I tried short-field again. I set full flaps and aimed for the numbers. I set down shortly after, and hit the brakes. I had to bring power back in order to make it to the first turnoff at Delta. Success! I taxied back and tied off.

I talked with Tim, and we'll be doing some night work next week (I need 8 more takeoffs and landings at night), and my plans for ground school and the tests coming up.

Friday Apr 18, 2008

practice what you've learned

It's been sunny and nice here for days, and today was a good day to fly. I checked the weather, as always, but no surprises there: some clouds at 25,000, a NOTAM for rocketry tomorrow, and that's it.

When I got to the airport, Tim had left to go to KACK (Nantucket) all day, and Sean was off. I checked in with Bill, and headed out in 976. The winds are calm, so I have my choice of runways. I go out on 5 (the default anyway) and head to the east. This time, unlike last week, I remember to set my transponder correctly before going to the line.

Above 1500 feet, everything is perfectly smooth. I haven't yet had a flight like this. Even the ponds and small hills go under me without even a small bump. I level out at 2500, heading 090, right on the nose.

As I get to the coast, I pull carb heat and the power back to 1900 RPM, pull back to hold altitude, and trim up for 80MPH. Then I drop in 20 degrees of flaps. A few seconds later, I drop back to 1700, trim up for 70, and put in 30 degrees. Then I trim down to 60 MPH. I'm in slow flight, just like with Sean, and my altitude is the same.

I do some slow clearing turns, then do my first power-off stall. The horn comes on and I keep the pressure coming. It takes effort not just to pull the elevator, but to keep my eyes outside on the nose to keep the plane right on course with the rudder. The horn starts to get more insistent and I feel the nose dropping, so I push in full power, establish climb attitude, and let my speed build back up to 80.

That's one successful stall. When I put the power back in, I didn't push enough on the rudder, so I'm now flying around 080. I turn back a bit, then do two more stalls.

Next, I did some maneuvering. First, I do a right turn to 180. Then 270. On that second turn, I blow through to about 290, because I'm paying too much attention to a deviation in airspeed. Next, after I realize what I'd done wrong there, I turn to 360 and nail it straight on. I take out the flaps, bring up airspeed, and retrim. Then a turn to the left back to 270.

Now I set up for a power-on stall. I establish a climb at around 80 MPH, then keep the elevator coming back. It's much harder to hold the nose in place, but I know I have to do it and watch the clouds for reference. Finally, after what seems like a long time, the horn starts to come on, and I wait for it to get a little more annoying, then drop the nose back to a normal climb and recover.

That's enough for one day, so I radio LWM and head back. The tower gives me a straight-in for 23, so I fly along the river until I'm lined up with the Cat-in-the-Hat water tower. As I'm coming in, three Mooneys are doing run-ups, all for departure on 23. The air's getting a little rougher as I get below 1500 feet. I'm at the 2 mile checkpoint, so I call the tower, and I'm cleared for 23.

I'm trying to fly the plane by reference to the outside. That means putting the nose where it looks like it should be, then just glancing at the instruments to make sure the airspeed is what I expect it to be. I drop in my last bit of flaps and get myself stable at 70. I cross the numbers just below 70 and get in level flight. I slowly pull out the last bit of power, pulling back, and I hear the stall warning come on as the wheels touch down. It's a fairly smooth landing, and just a few inches to the left of the centerline.

The tower tells me to turn off when able and to park with him. I could possibly get off by Echo, but I'd have to brake a little hard to do it, and I'd rather not lose control due to a braking problem after such a good flight. I motor my way up to Delta, and those Mooneys will just have to wait a few seconds.

I pull in to park, and I'm right on the yellow line. As I secure the plane, I note just 0.6 on the Hobbs. I could have gone a bit more, and gotten some pattern work out of it, but this was a successful day just the same, and cheap fun at $66. I'm getting a good bit more confident. I don't think I'm quite near ready for a practical test, though. I'm at about 40 hours, and have a few more things on my checklist to get done, but it's really the consistent practice that I need.

Friday Apr 11, 2008

stalls and the nose

As promised, I went up with Sean again today for some remedial work. Yesterday was a perfect day, and this morning the clouds were coming in at 11,000 feet with an afternoon storm on the way. The skies were crowded with people enjoying the last few hours before the weather turns.

We took off from runway 5, ahead of a Saratoga that was taking a longish while on run-up, and headed to the east. Sean seems to like to imitate ATC vectoring the student around, which isn't bad in terms of practice. Fly 090, reduce speed to 80. Now turn left to 360, climb to 3000, and add 30 degrees of flaps. Last time, I was doing each instruction one at a time, now I'm trying to combine them as requested.

We went through several clearing turns and slow flight practice, first at 80, then 60 MPH. Then he had me do some power-off stalls. I mushed the first one, as I left in too much power and had only a weak stall going with the elevator all the way back. He asked me to recover, and I didn't hold altitude. The second one was a bit better.

We went around a bit in a few more circles, and then he had me do a power-on stall. I got a bit of a better break this time, and he pointed out that I need to watch the nose of the plane so that I can detect the smallest amount of yaw, and correct right away with my feet. The clouds make a pretty good reference point, so it's good it wasn't so clear.

Next is an emergency landing practice. He first asks me to describe the "we're on fire, and we need to get down NOW" procedure, so I do. He then pulls the power and says, "ok, show me." I set up at 80 MPH and drop in 40 degrees of flaps. I have to push over pretty far to hold airspeed, and then trim up. He asks where I'm going. I point to a nice, flat-looking patch of ground at about my one-o'clock position. He asks me about Plum Island. I have to admit that I'm not sure where I am in relation to it, so I don't know if I could make it.

He takes the controls and does a dramatic all-I-see-is-dirt 45 degree (or more) turn around towards Plum Island, and points out that, as the stewardess says, "the closest exit may be behind you." He asks where we should go, and I correctly point out that we should head to the runway, and not fly a pattern. He notes that people have lost it trying to do that, so I got that one right.

After climbing back out, we head back to the pattern over LWM. The tower has me enter a left downwind for runway 5, which is pretty much dead ahead of me. Sean asks, and I point to exactly where I'm going; I have the field, runway, and pattern in sight. For some reason, he always leaves me wondering whether \*he\* thinks I answered his question correctly, though (at least for this small part of the flight) I know what I'm doing.

I set up and make my calls. Sean is asking me to identify the traffic, and the increased workload (and burn-out from the exercise) causes me to make mistakes there. I've got the traffic in sight, but I'm not correctly identifying it against the instructions I'm overhearing from the tower.

We ask for a touch-and-go, and I'm second in trail behind what looks like a newer-model Skyhawk. The wind is light, and I don't pull enough power, so I end up high on final. He asks what I'm going to do about it. I don't hesitate. I tell him and the tower that we're going around. Later, on the ground, he criticized that move on two points: first, I should initiate the go-around \*before\* saying anything, because it's "aviate first." Second, I didn't apply full power initially. I know I didn't do that because with 30-40 degrees of flaps, the nose pitches up dramatically with power, and with all the extra altitude I had, I didn't want that. But I wasn't following procedure.

We go around again, and on final he asks if I'd make the field if my engine cut at that point. I say I'm not sure, but it doesn't look like it. Actually, I've been low this whole pass, mostly as I'm at least trying to correct for being too high the last time. He pulls my hand off the throttle and idles the engine. I set up for best glide (well, I was there already), and the intercept looks to be a good 50 feet short of the runway. Power back in, and lesson learned: don't be so low you can't make it. It's at least embarrassing to miss the runway from pattern.

The landing that follows is just awful. My speed is good -- perhaps a little low at 65. The winds are variable, and when I touch down, they're quartering from the left. I don't correct the right way, and I'm unsteady on the runway. I end up in a not-good state and asking for help to recover before we end up in a ditch. This is the first time I've had to deal with that kind of wind.

In the briefing after the lesson he recommends: (1) that after I get the license, I should take an emergency procedures course to practice unusual attitude recovery (I'd planned on that anyway), (2) next week I should go out solo and practice slow flight and stalls, (3) I have to get it in my head that I'm in charge, and I have to do all the flying; I can't delegate if I get in trouble.

Thursday Apr 03, 2008

back to basics

It's a severe clear day in the Northeast, and I went up with Sean (CFII) because I asked for some practice in landing, and for him to beat me up a little. He seems to make me more nervous than Tim, but I also seem to get more out of it, so as long as he's willing to fly with me, I'll take it.

We started in the pattern on runway 23 with winds about 10kts reported to be from 260. I climbed up, leveled off right at pattern altitude, and got to work. I trimmed on the way up and I thought I was doing a good job holding runway heading -- keeping the right rudder in there during the climb and taking it out as I throttle back.

I ask for the option, and we're number two behind a full-stop. As usual, I end up landing a bit left of the centerline and have to bleed off some speed before touchdown. I clean it up and get back off the ground.

As soon as we're airborne, Sean pulls out a map, unfolds it, and drapes it over the instrument panel. I can't see anything but look out the window. I point out that I'm a bit nervous not knowing my airspeed or my altitude. He says that I should just climb the way I did before and watch the nose instead. For altitude, I should turn crosswind at the same point I did last time, and then pull the power back at the same point.

He asked if there were any regulations about pattern altitude. I said I've read them all, but I didn't know of one; it's a safety issue. We take a peek, and I'm at something more like 1800 feet rather than 1200 feet. Again around the pattern, but I'm doing a slightly better job keeping it square because (with a map of the ocean in my face) I'm looking out the window more.

We go a couple of more times around like this, with Sean trying to instill in me a lack of fear about trimming. You just set the trim, and that's the speed you'll go, even if you turn. I _know_ this, but I just don't know that I do.

We take off for the east, towards Plum Island, and he has me go into slow flight. First, 70MPH and 20 degrees flaps. Then 60MPH and 30 degrees. We do some maneuvering around and then take a long slow trip back to LWM at 60.

About 10 miles out, he tells me to let go of the yoke. If I touch it, I owe him a coffee. I'm to steer with my feet alone and control my altitude with the power. It's a bit nerve-wracking. It's a slightly windy day -- winds are now up to 14kts on the ground -- and we're going over the Merrimack river at 2000 feet and descending. Every bump makes the plane pitch up, lose airspeed alarmingly, pitch back down, and then settle.

I'm supposed to be getting it in my head that the plane works for me: set the pitch where I want it, and then assume that the natural stability will do the right thing. Over the VOR (around 2 miles to the touchdown), he lets me use the yoke. I do, but I keep using my feet to steer. I touch down almost exactly on the center line, and I even (for the first time ever) got the stall warning to go off during flare.

We double-time taxi out to Delta, because there's a rocket on our tail, and then head in to park.

Sean says that if he were my primary instructor, he wouldn't have soloed me, because he doesn't think I have enough of an instinct for pitch and power yet. I didn't say so, but I think I was probably on the low end of performance today. I know I can do a bit better, but he's quite right that I'm not configuring the plane right all of the time.

I set up another lesson with him next Friday to do some more slow flight and perhaps some stalls. If nothing else, I need to be confident in these maneuvers for the practical test.

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