Saturday, April 11, 2015

Squishy solo time in the Skyhawk

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 58 degrees, wind light and variable

The grass was plenty mushy thanks to some hearty spring rains over the past week, but thankfully it was still firm enough to allow for a little aviating this evening. Gina was working in the office so I took the Skyhawk up solo for another practice session. Warm temperatures made for a quick start of the O-300 after two shots of primer. I ran through most of my pre-takeoff checks on the concrete pads; once I pushed the throttle and started rolling, I never stopped to avoid getting stuck in the soft, muddy turf.

Turning east while climbing to head north of the airport for practice

I climbed straight out to pattern altitude before turning east and climbing up to around 3,500 feet. First I did a couple steep turns in each direction at 45. and then 60 degrees of bank. I held all the numbers pretty well and was satisfied so on went the carb heat, throttle back, slow into the white arc, and gradually add in 30 degrees of flaps. Chugging along in slow flight with the stall horn chirping, I pulled the throttle to idle, yoke all the way back into my chest, and managed three or four clean power-off stall breaks.

Everything was going quite well as I cleaned the airplane up, then raised the nose and pushed in full power while climbing at about 80 MPH. Keep pulling the yoke back, back, back... this thing ends up pretty nose-high before it stalls with one occupant and light fuel! I got a pretty hefty break with a noticeable drop of the left wing. Hmm, try again with more rudder - same result. It was much the same on the third try. All perfectly within limits, but I think I need to go up and do a little more power-on stall work in the 172. Wanting to get in a few landings before sunset, I quickly steep spiraled the 1,500 or 2,000 feet down to pattern altitude.

Everything's greening up quite nicely these days!

Given the field conditions, I ventured over to Wright Brothers to touch the wheels to pavement. Both circuits around the pattern were thoroughly successful. Neither landing was a total greaser but the stall horn was blaring when the mains touched and everything felt nice and smooth. Calm winds led to two of those wonderfully smooth "have we even left the ground?" takeoffs, too.

The sun was nearing the horizon as I returned to Stewart

I went around on my first landing - not because anything was wrong but because Gina was driving a golf cart alongside the runway putting out lanterns for a night flight and I thought it would be nice to say hello. Coming back around, I set the plane down softly past the threshold with a little power left in and successfully avoided the ruts marked by cones off to the side. Lots of power was required to taxi through a few particularly squishy spots but the airplane and I made it back to the tiedown unscathed. It sure is nice to be flying on warm evenings again!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 327.0 hours

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcoming spring with some soft field practice

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 47 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 7 knots

Flying time is always hard to come by in the winter and my weekly agenda thus far in 2015 hasn't made it easier than usual. I was finally home with time to spare this morning and the springlike air was reason enough to brave mushy grass for some stick time. Emerson and I chatted about the field conditions upon my arrival, which were typical for March at Stewart - land a few hundred feet past the marked threshold, hug the south side of the runway next to the cones, and avoid the west end of the field.

He propped me and I launched into true soft field mode; once moving, I never stopped while I was on the soft, muddy turf. I did my run-up while taxiing to the runway and soon pushed in full throttle and launched skyward. With a decent wind nearly on the nose, cool temperatures, and being solo in the rear seat, the big Cub climbed fast. I leveled off at pattern altitude (1,800 feet) before turning crosswind each time around.

I had to knock off a little rust but I was satisfied with every landing. I made three laps around the pattern before flying east over the lake for a little sightseeing. Even with the snow melt, the water was still low and you could see some old foundations like we spotted in January. I climbed up to about 2,500 feet and did some steep turns, then flew back north of the airport and quickly descended back to pattern altitude with a steep spiral.

Wanting to check the other end of the field, I made a low pass and circled back around for my final landing. Coming in over the trees with a bit of power, I flared and touched extremely softly for a perfect three-pointer. That sure felt good.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 326.1 hours

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cub vs Champ

As someone who has spent significant time behind the sticks of both Cubs and Champs, this video really piqued my interest. It's a great comparison of the two classic trainers, both of which qualify under the Light Sport category. If you're new to flying or simply haven't had the opportunity to fly an old taildragger this is a perfect, quick way to learn more about the venerable J-3 and 7AC.

From my own perspective, the differences between the two planes are most apparent on takeoff and landing. Champs love to float and you need to manage your airspeed to avoid scooting well down the runway in ground effect; the Cub's boxier fuselage seems to bleed airspeed more quickly. On takeoff, they're spot-on in the video about how fast you can bring the Cub's tail up with moderate forward stick. I think the Champ spins a tad easier, too, but that's not exactly a standard (intentional) maneuver for most pilots...

Apologies for the lack of, well, anything on here in quite some time. I've been on the road for work a ton - the better part of three weeks and over 17,000 miles via the airlines since I last flew the Cub myself in January! With the return of Daylight Savings Time this weekend I hope my schedule will again permit regular stick time soon.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Closing out the work week with Cub practice

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 39 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 2 knots

A hectic week of work was coming to a close, it was nearly 40 degrees in mid-January, and I was just out of Cub currency. It should come as no surprise that I called Stewart and grabbed an available J-3 when I realized I could leave the office a little early. I arrived at the airport around 4:00, preflighted my favorite yellow aerial machine, and Jamie kindly propped the engine to life.

Ready to clear my head of everything but aviating

I knew I was bound to be a bit rusty so it was a prime day for practice. Light winds and a decidedly soft field (above-freezing temperatures after prolonged snow on the ground always result in mushy grass) made for ideal knock-the-rust-off conditions. I took off on Runway 26 and was quickly reminded how much fun a Cub can be. Even with the (lowly?) 65 hp model, I had to level off before turning crosswind; I was already at Stewart's pattern altitude of 800 feet AGL.

My first landing wasn't great - I lightly bounced a couple times as the tailwheel dragged across a couple muddy spots. The second time around the patch was better, though the landing still wasn't perfect. I would have preferred a light wind from the east, actually, since landing on Runway 26 when the sun nears the horizon results in a rather glare-filled windscreen. The air was also a bit hazy this evening so that didn't help matters.

After my second takeoff I climbed up to about 3,500 feet over Caesar Creek Lake. I trimmed the airplane for hands-off flight, checked for traffic, increased the throttle by about 150 RPM, and rolled into a 45-50 degree bank. I made three or four sets of steep turns to the left and the right, improving every time. I held altitude and airspeed spot-on during a few revolutions. I even hit my own wake twice. It always feels good to get dialed back in on steep turns.

Satisfied, I throttled back and pitched the airplane into slow flight, eventually adding some back in once I reached the back side of the power curve. I puttered along at 40-45 MPH indicated, then pulled the nose up and returned the throttle to full power. I pulled back until the nose finally dropped straight down for a nice, clean power-on stall break. Carb heat out, I did a couple more of the power-off variety.

Then I decided to try a falling leaf. After a power-off stall, I kept the stick full back. Following the second (or maybe third) break, I heard the unmistakable "click-click-click-click" sound the magnetos make when you turn the ignition off. I immediately pushed the stick and throttle forward and the engine gingerly coughed back to life. That was enough falling leaf practice.

Pro tip - a 65 hp Continental isn't a big fan of extended idle time when there's cold air rushing past the cylinders at 50+ MPH when it's 30 degrees (at altitude, at least) outside.

I snapped this out the tiny air vent on the port side of the cockpit

I did a pseudo-steep spiral (with partial power - for obvious reasons, I hope) down to pattern altitude and flew back to the airport. The haze made it hard to see much of anything in that direction but I kept my head on a swivel looking for the usual flow of NORDO traffic. Crossing midfield, I made a normal approach and a pretty good landing.

It's pretty rare for me to fly on a weekday in the winter, so I'm quite satisfied with today's practice. Got in some soft field takeoffs and landings and worked through a bunch of basic maneuvers. Best of all, I earned myself another 90 days of tailwheel / daytime PIC currency.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 325.3 hours

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ringing in 2015 with an octet of airplanes

Plane: Cessna 150 
Route: 40I-MWO-40I 
Weather: Clear, 25 degrees, wind 240 degrees at 15 knots gusting to 26

For the second year in a row, we took part in an old Stewart tradition - flying to breakfast on New Year's Day. Compared to last year, we doubled the turnout; eight airplanes flew this morning. I'm pretty sure that every one of Stewart's airplanes not currently in for annual took to the sky.

We lucked out, too. Although it was cold and windy there was not an ounce of frost, so we all avoided a lengthy deicing. Tommy hauled the preheater around the field to warm everyone's cylinders and all the engines were turning by 8:30. Within minutes, three Cubs, a Champ, the Arrow, the Fly Baby, and the 172 were airborne. We departed last in the 150.

We both got new Halo headsets for Christmas! :)

We were the eighth and final airplane to depart Stewart

Joining up with everyone else shortly after takeoff

Following a couple Cubs to Middletown

The third Cub, off our right wing

Entering the pattern at MWO in trail of all three Cubs

A different angle - us following the three Cubs from the ground MWO

Gina was quite excited that we could finally order some food

All eight planes on the ground in Middletown

I'm sure our eclectic formation was quite a sight from the ground - at least if anyone else was crazy enough to be up so early, looking skyward. We had a hearty headwind so the short 13 mile hop took nearly 25 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. I followed the three Cubs, landing last, with an absolute greaser in the shifty, gusty winds. The wheels touched so softly you could barely tell we had landed and I made the first turnoff. Definitely a good way to start to the new year!

Everyone parked on the edge of the ramp and walked through the gate to Frisch's next door. I'm not sure the staff expected 16 people to walk in together but our waitress was extremely cheerful and somehow kept our orders straight. I had an omlette and Gina had eggs and French toast; along with the coffee, it all certainly hit the spot.

We spent about an hour in the restaurant before heading back through the fence. I quickly preflighted the 150 and hopped in. I was slightly worried about the engine firing after spending an hour in the cold, gusty winds. Thankfully, she fired right up after three shots of primer. I taxied to the end of Runway 23, completed a runup, and was the first to depart. Everyone followed quickly behind and I soon joined up on the pack of airplanes flying eastward.

Flying back to Stewart at 2,500 feet following our hearty breakfast

Caesar Creek Lake, partially drained for the winter

In some spots, nearly all the water was gone

Even a small river has tremendous power to clear everything in its path

Foundations are still visible from buildings that were demolished when the lake was built

One final look at the low water on our way back towards the airport

Tommy and I were talking last night and he'd mentioned how low the lake was. They usually drain it in the winter (so there's greater capacity in the spring to hold snow melt and rainfall) but it seems even lower than usual this year. He said you could see some of the old foundations from the buildings that used to lie in the valley before it was flooded in the late 1970s when the lake was built. I hadn't seen that before so we continued east after the formation reached Stewart. As you can see above, it was definitely a unique view. Without question, it's a view that can only be truly appreciated from above.

Tuning in the AWOS at Wright Brothers, I checked the winds and noted that they had continued to pick up. They were gusting up to 25-30 knots but were at least only 20-30 degrees off the runway heading. I turned final for Runway 26 at Stewart and had to stay very active on the controls all the way down. Kicking in a little left rudder to counter a wind shift just as I was rounding out, I touched down very softly on the grass. Two for two to begin 2015. I'll take it.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 324.5 hours