Monday, June 9, 2008

Lesson 2: Checklists, turns, and stalls

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Few clouds, 75-85 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 7-10 knots

My job took me away to Germany for two weeks to attend drupa, a giant trade show for the printing industry, and then I spent a few vacation days over there before flying back across the pond. It was on my schedule for a long time and one of the reasons I did not start flying regularly any sooner. But now that it’s over and done with (Germany is a great country, by the way) I am ready to get into the training groove. Similar to my first lesson, this one was preceded by a cancellation on Friday the 6th due to high winds. We've had quite the stormy spring here in Ohio and the weather has not exactly been ideal for flying as much as I would like. I was supposed to go up with a different instructor on that flight but today I was with Joe again.

I did the preflight inspection of the plane, which I had not done before, while we discussed some of the key things to watch out for. There are springs attached to the tailwheel that can break or come loose and that is one thing to pay special attention to. I opened up the cowling to check the oil - and got some grease on myself, which I discovered WD-40 and Dawn dish soap take out like magic - and it had three to four quarts as it should. Then I strained a fuel sample to check for any water in the tank and there were no signs of any contamination. All aviation fuels are colored to help you ensure the correct fuel is in your plane - the 100 octane used in most small planes is a light blue. The fuel gauge (it's basically a wire that sticks out of the cap and bobs up and down) was then checked for proper movement - you certainly don't want it stuck in the "full" position. Joe then pointed out the three most important things in the preflight inspection to me...
  1. Wing structure - obviously your wing needs to be firmly attached to the fuselage
  2. Control surfaces - they must be able to move freely, you don't want anything that impedes their movement that can cause them to stick
  3. Engine - checking the oil, fuel, and under the cowling for any foreign objects like bird nests
Even though it was only my second lesson, Joe told me that I seem to be a quick learner and know what I'm doing so he had me get in and buckle up to be at the controls while he would hand prop the engine. I first got in and familiarized myself with the location of the instruments and controls, which are slightly different than the Cub. Probably the biggest difference with the Champ vs. the Cub is that the pilot sits in the front. I found there to be a lot more leg room and it just felt more spacious to me. Ready to start the engine, I first pull the stick all the way back so that the air hitting the tail will force it on to the ground and push on the breaks, then call out "stick back, brakes set, throttle closed, switch off." The person propping the plane then pushes on the plane to make sure the breaks are set and says when they are ready. Whoever's propping the plane is in charge at this point. Once ready, I advance the throttle slightly and turn the key to both (meaning all magnetos are on) and yell out "breaks set, throttle cracked, contact!" A quick and light push on the prop and the engine roared to life, I brought the throttle back to idle, and Joe climbed in back.

Now it was time for taxiing, my favorite activity! Ok, clearly that's sarcasm but I don't actually mind it at all - it's just going to take lots of practice. You reeeeally have to push the pedals in all the way to get it to turn on the ground. We (and by we, I mean I) got turned around pretty quick when I first went to taxi. Turns out the tailwheel was turned completely sideways before we ever moved. Note to self - check that from now on during the preflight and straighten it out. We practiced the before-takeoff runup checklist, known as the CIGAR checklist. C for controls free, I for checking the instruments, G for gas, A for airframe like seatbelts and door latches, and R for runup when you rev up the engine and check the magnetos. Even though I read it all in the book, I only managed to remember the R this time around. Something else for me to work on for next time. Joe then took off, but handed me the controls very shortly after takeoff and had me climb straight out up to 3,000 feet.

You could really feel the wind shifting as we climbed, to the point that it was clearly moving me in different directions at different altitudes. I was not making any attempts to crab into the wind or maintain a straight path across the ground since I was a bit rusty and more concerned about flying the plane. Joe told me that was a smart plan, but it's still something else I will have to work on in the future. At first I was not doing the greatest job of looking out the sides to maintain a five degree pitch (looking at the bottom of the wingtip on the horizon) and was using too much aileron to correct when the airplane moved around in the air. Joe told me to just use the rudder and not even touch the stick and I started to do a much better job of climbing out straight and smooth. Up at altitude I did some of the basic maneuvers - climbs, descents, and turns - that we worked on during the first lesson. Ever so slightly more comfortable, I began to pick up on a few more clues like the fact that at a proper five degree climb my airspeed was between 55 and 60 miles per hour.

Turns around a point were the next task, and the idea with this maneuver is to make a circle of a constant radius around some point on the ground. Sounds simple enough until you remember that the wind is blowing and always pushing you off course to varying degrees. We picked a water tower and to be honest I ended up making something that only vaguely resembled a parallelogram around a point. But after some more tips from Joe, I started to try to picture the circle on the ground and then worked to keep the plane over top of that imaginary circle. This seemed to help and I improved somewhat as we went on. For some reason, I was holding my altitude within about 25 feet when turning to the left but it was more like 100 feet off when going to the right. Altogether, it's a great maneuver and one I will need to become proficient at but it was an interesting first practice.

It was now demonstration time and Joe showed me Dutch Rolls, Slow Flight, Steep Turns, Power Off Stalls, and Slips.
  • Dutch Rolls are where you bank the airplane with the ailerons then use the rudder to keep the nose pointed straight while you rock back and forth.
  • Slow Flight is pretty self-explanatory but it is important to learn how to control the airplane at these speeds because they are very similar to landing, and less speed often reduces your margin for error close to the ground.
  • Steep Turns are made by banking the wings between 45 and 60 degrees and the G-force ranges from about 1.33 to 2.0 Gs.
  • Power Off Stalls are when the throttle is brought to idle (and carburetor heat turned on!) and the stick is pulled back until it stops and the wing stops developing lift - which is essentially what you want to do when landing. I must say that when Joe demonstrated them I was very surprised just how tame they were. It barely felt like anything and we didn't seem to lose more than a couple feet of altitude.
  • Slips are banking the plane with ailerons one way while using opposite rudder in order to produce a lot of drag and quickly lose altitude. With two maximum slips (rudder pushed as far as it will go) we quickly were down to 1,500 feet and had to climb back up to 3,000.

Joe said it was time for me to practice stalls, so I added carb heat and brought the throttle to idle, let the airspeed slow to less then 40 mph, and slowly brought the stick back as far as it would go. The plane started to buffet and nose over and I let the stick move back forward too soon. This took a few repetitions but I began to get a better feel for it and by the fifth or sixth stall was able to just slightly let the stick move forward and the plane came out of the stall. There's still plenty of practice to go but I definitely felt like I got a much better feeling for how to recover from a stall.

We were starting to feel some turbulence that we figured out to be downdrafts from the thunderstorms that were very far away but slowly making their way closer, so it was time to land. I descended to 1,800 feet and turned downwind (a little too soon, so I had to turn away from the airport a little bit) and then checked that carb heat was on and slowed to 1,500 RPM. As we were descending, I turned base and then final and was still a little bit too high so I had to push the nose over to bleed altitude but managed to stay pretty well aligned with the runway. Joe took over when we were about 25-50 feet in the air and brought us back down to the ground. Discussing later, I found out that I was high because we hit an updraft on short final.

Off of the runway, I taxied back to the hangar and was starting to get a much better feel for controlling the throttle in small amounts to keep the speed from getting too fast. It's still amazing just how much you have to press on the rudder pedals to move that tailwheel on the ground, but it did feel a lot better than when we taxied out before takeoff. All shut down and with the plane back in the hangar, we talked and Joe said he could see my flying improve from the beginning of the lesson to the end. I do believe that I got worse at keeping my head outside the cockpit and looking to the sides for a while in the middle of the lesson until I caught myself and corrected - I definitely have to keep working on that. All told, it was encouraging considering I had not been up in three weeks and it was on my my second lesson. Plenty of new experiences, plenty to work on and think about, and plenty to look forward to.

Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 4.3 hours

1 comment:

  1. WOW you have been busy since we last talked and I last read. Good job!