Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lesson 14: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 85 degrees, wind 160 degrees at 4 knots

I walked away from tonight's lesson with a much better understanding of a few key things. None of it was totally new, but Joe threw me a curve ball and demonstrated maneuvers and procedures differently than before.

There was a slight tailwind on Runway 26, our usual choice at Stewart, and that helped to point out the importance of airspeed over groundspeed. You sure can feel like you're moving way too fast (and thus want to pull up or pull power) because the wind is pushing you from behind. Of course, your airspeed is actually where it's supposed to be and if you pull up you'll likely find yourself planted firmly on the ground very quickly... or worse. After two takeoffs and one landing from Runway 26, we switched and started coming in from the other direction on Runway 8.

We flew low and slow over the runway and did some touch and goes (yes, in a taildragger) to see the importance of keeping your eyes outside the cockpit and out the side of the plane when you're landing or taking off. Contrary to what might feel normal, you don't really want to be looking forward with tunnel vision at these critical points of the flight. Remember that, especially in a taildragger, forward visibility is limited on the ground or when the noise is pointed upwards as it is on takeoff and landing. Looking forward also leads to a natural tendency to push the stick forward and we don't want to auger ourselves into the ground, now do we? So instead we use more peripheral vision to the sides to judge our height from the ground and fly the plane through the flare all the way to touchdown.

Highlights from tonight:
  • Ugly - My first takeoff and landing were quite terrible. I zigged and zagged instead of keeping the plane tracking straight down the runway on the way up and flared too high and let the plane slam back down on landing. A lot of that had to to with the aforementioned tailwinds.
  • Good - Flying around the pattern. Joe said I fly one of the best patterns he's ever seen, which is quite the compliment. If you look at the Google Earth tracks from many of my lessons, I must say that the pattern usually is quite consistent. I did a good job holding altitude tonight, too.
  • Ugly - After switching around to Runway 8, I nearly flew us into the rising ground on the first landing attempt and Joe had to jump in. I let the plane do what it wanted instead of flying the plane properly by putting it where I wanted it to be. Not that it helped it was my first time ever landing on Runway 8 with its slight slope up, but that's not much of an excuse.
  • Bad - Most of my flares for landing. I wasn't judging my height above the ground so well (need to look out the side more!!!) and often flared a little too high, resulting in somewhat less than smooth contact with the grass.
  • Good - On the third trip around the pattern after taking off from Runway 8, Joe pulled my power at pattern altitude to simulate an engine out. The best landing site was Runway 24 as we were on the East side of the field. Since the wind was relatively calm I was able to slip it down, get aligned, and make a pretty good landing.
  • Bad - Joe pulled the power shortly after takeoff (maybe 300 feet AGL) and I found a field to land in. However, I did not go into nearly as steep of a forward slip as I should have and it would have made for a rather hairy landing if the engine had actually quit. We practiced slips more after this.
  • Good - Forward slips after that engine out. Joe demonstrated one time, going into a slip on downwind while turning us left on to final in one continuous turn. I did this the next two times around the pattern and was able to go into a full slip (rudder all the way to the stop, lots of bank angle) and bleed off a tremendous amount of altitude and get us down low and landed. It was great to practice these since, in general, you do not use anywhere near that degree of a slip during landing. But you just might have to in an emergency.
  • Bad - Touch and goes. Some of it was because I couldn't totally hear Joe and wasn't sure what he wanted me to do. We came in low on approach, then added a touch of power to remain just a couple feet off the ground until we briefly let the wheels touch. Then, you turn the carb heat on, add full power, and take back off. As it's how we usually take off, I'm in the habit of pushing the stick forward when you apply full power on takeoff... but it's not a good idea to try to do that when you're already rolling down the runway at 40 mph. Lesson learned.
  • Good - My last complete circuit around the pattern. Joe told me he wasn't going to touch any of the controls and he never did have to. Takeoff was my best of the night, smoothly lifting off from Runway 8. It's kind of nice to take off to the East because there's a slight hill and as you roll down it and pick up speed the plane pretty much takes off on its own. Anyway, I got around the pattern nicely (see above) and brought it in for a very soft landing. Let it bounce ever so slightly because I allowed the stick to come forward a little (see above as well) but still was probably my best landing of the night. Certainly the best way to end a lesson.

Lastly, the most important lesson of the day from Joe, which is "fly one hundred percent of the airplane one hundred percent of the time." What does that mean? Don't let yourself to stop doing what you're supposed to be by allowing the airplane to do what IT wants instead of what YOU want it to do. Don't be quick with the stick and throttle but forget about proper rudder usage. Don't control the plane down a nice glideslope and then relax the stick during the flare instead of holding the plane off the runway and keeping the stick back as you settle back to the ground. Don't do any of that. Do, however, make sure you feel the airplane and properly control it so that it is positioned where you want it to be and do this from the time you climb in until the time you climb back out.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Total Time: 16.9 hours


  1. I hear ya on the peripheral thing. I was doing soft field landings in a C172. Taxiing with my nose pointing up and not being able to see out the front wigged me out for a bit. I guess it's what you're used to.

    Btw, I found your site through "42 and Flying" :) Great blog.

  2. Uh oh, Sarah has found you, Steve. Just kidding.

    Hang in there on the landings...after all, we're STUDENTS. These planes can take a LOT more than we can give them, I'm finding out.

    Hopefully, we will do landings at our local Class D (HTS) this weekend, and I'll have a report on my good, bad and ugly.

    Greg P.

  3. Sarah,

    Thanks and glad you're enjoying the blog! I saw yours through Greg's myself and added it to the blogroll on my site... I'll get caught up and read thru all your posts sometime soon I hope! Regarding the view out the front, it's definitely different than with a tricycle gear plane but it's not as hard as you might expect to fly with.


    Agreed and it's great to have numerous other student pilots blogging and in similar spots in their training so we can all remind ourselves that this is a LEARNING experience... and always will be, for that matter. I'm expecting you to have no ugly this weekend, by the way. ;-)

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  5. I will do the same and add you. Thanks! And hope my blogs don't bore you when you get around to reading them :)

  6. Steve, sounds like you had quite a workout on this one. I always found the days that I thought were the toughest at the time turned out to be the most usefu later on in terms of lessons learned.