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

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Radio Time: My Icom A14

Beginning what is certainly going to be a long and never-ending pilot tradition of collecting gadgets, I recently ordered a transceiver. The Icom IC-A14, which you can order yourself by clicking here. It's a portable radio that allows me to talk to air traffic control, turn on pilot-controlled lighting, listen to the weather, and so on. There has been a lot of discussion amongst students and pilots over on the AOPA's forums and a few of us ordered A14's last week based on a very positive overall consensus about its form and function.

Why did I order a hand-held radio? Well for starters, one of a pilot's best friends is a backup and it never hurts to have one if the radio in the airplane dies. It's also good for use on the ground when you don't want to run down the airplane's battery just to check the weather. As far as training goes, it's very useful since I can use it in the car, at home, or anywhere else to listen to and become familiar with air traffic control. While we don't have radios or electrical systems in the Champ or the Cub, I will be talking on the airwaves soon enough in the Cessna 150. Lastly, it will be nice to listen in on communications when I go to airshows.

I have not yet used my little Icom very much, but I will still offer some brief thoughts about the unit. Please comment on this post or shoot me an email, now or in the future, if you have any questions about my experience with the A14.

  • Great form factor, easily fits in my hand and good ergonomics
  • Seems to have great range - I'm picking up the ATIS from Wright-Patterson AFB on the ground at my apartment, which is over 8 miles away
  • UPDATE: Range is definitely good, easily 15+ miles reception in the air.
  • Battery life - haven't used it enough to run them down but the 2,000 mAh LiIon pack is reported to last a very long time
  • Feels very solid and appears quite rugged and durable
  • Can get LOUD if you need it to thanks to 700 mW audio - trust me, you can crank it up if needed
  • 8 character alphanumeric names can be assigned to memory channels
  • Keys are not backlit, only the LCD display lights up green
  • No "flip-flop" button/feature to quickly return to the prior frequency

4/5 Cubs

If you decide to purchase this radio based upon my review, I would appreciate if you do so by clicking on this Amazon linkIt really helps support the blog. Thanks! -Steve

Lesson 13: No help from the back

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Scattered clouds and haze, 68 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 8 knots

One point four hours in the logbook and eight more takeoffs and landings later, things are really feeling good for me. Driving to the airport the cloud cover was very low and it was slightly misty out, but I had checked the TAF (Terminal Area Forecast, an aviation-specific weather forecast) before leaving and it indicated clearing skies. Sure enough, the clouds started to part and blue sky was visible when we took to the air.

Takeoffs weren't my best today but they all were acceptable and I corrected when needed to keep us tracking down the runway before lifting off. They improved by the end of the lesson and the last one or two were very smooth. Usual procedures include climbing at 60 mph, the best rate of climb speed. Since the Champ climbs quite slowly - especially on a hot, humid day - Dave had me start climbing at 50 mph on the last few trips around the pattern to save us some time. On the third time around, he pulled the power and had me to an engine-out landing. I got the nose down (not so far this time) and brought us in a little high as you're supposed to, then used a forward slip to bring us down for a very soft three-point landing. Fun stuff.

This being the earliest lesson I've had to date (starting at 9:00 am) I got a chance to see how much low clouds and sunlight can combine to make visibility quite awful as well. Since I was taking off to the West the sun was behind me, but when we turned downwind it was almost as if the airport disappeared. Everything to the East was pretty well obscured or hazy thanks to the reflection of the sunlight off the mist and clouds and it was much more difficult than normal to look for traffic. With all the moisture in the air and sun shining it got bumpier as the ground started to heat up and clouds were forming, but it didn't rock us around too much.

After the second landing, we were taxiing back and I heard an unmistakable roar. I glanced up and saw an F-16 in what looked to be a minimum radius turn a few thousand feet overhead. We're not under an MOA (Military Operations Area) at Stewart so it was an unexpected surprise but with an ANG unit close by in Springfield you do hear them from time to time. Certainly not the standard traffic we see at our small grass strip!

Altogether it was a great lesson and I really feel that both takeoffs and landings have come together. Dave told me he wasn't helping on the controls at all today and that really made me understand that I'm actually "getting it" to a great extent. Talking with Eric, my mentor through the AOPA Project Pilot program, after the lesson he commented that it sounds like I'm making good progress towards solo. And to that point, Dave said he expects I'll do just that in the next week after a little more work on emergency procedures.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Total Time: 15.5 hours

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lesson 12: "Your engine just died"

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 79 degrees, wind 310 degrees at 4 knots

Every pilot loooves practicing emergency procedures! Ok, maybe I'm being a little facetious but such things are a very important part of our training. Before I am allowed to solo it's required, and logically so, that I practice the proper actions to take in the case of an in-flight emergency. Tonight we worked on our engine suddenly quitting up in the sky.

There are many variations of engine-out procedures and tonight, this being my first time, we started with it happening at a high enough altitude to attempt restarting it and returning to the airport. In the future, practice will include an engine failure at low altitude. Were that to happen, you basically lower the nose to maintain airspeed and find a place to land in front of you.

Back to tonight, Joe pulled the power right when I was about to reduce throttle on the downwind leg of the pattern. I immediately lowered the nose (too much - as Joe said, "it's a descent, not a dive!") and then ran through the checks for re-starting the engine, which are 1) Mag Switch On 2) Carb Heat On and 3) Fuel Selector On. Since the propeller is spinning from air moving past it, this should be enough to restart an engine that has not totally failed. Being that I was practicing, the throttle remained at idle and I turned to glide us in towards the airport. If you look at the Google Earth track (link at the bottom of the post) you'll see the one pattern where I make a diagonal towards the runway coming off downwind. I actually made the turn a little too late and we just barely had enough altitude to get back to the airport. However, I did glide us in successfully and was able to set the airplane down right in the middle of the runway for a decent three-point landing.

Aside from the engine-out practice, the rest of the lesson was circuits around the pattern. My takeoffs were relatively good all night long, but I think they were better last lesson. Landings started off a little shaky (I floated too much on the first and second) but the last couple were quite good. On my next-to-last landing I was on a much better glide path and only had to use a slight forward slip, which I temporarily came out of until we cleared the trees, and transitioned into a good flare for a three-pointer. Joe mentioned that Dave may have been helping me a little more than I realized so it was good to go up and keep improving my feel of the controls on landing. While I'm not terribly far from soloing, there is still additional instruction on emergency procedures and a little more landing practice before I hit that milestone.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 14.1 hours

Friday, July 18, 2008

Lesson 11: Getting close

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear with haze, 88 degrees, wind 230 degrees at 5 knots

Another lesson spent in the pattern and another lesson full of improvements in my flying. Today we made six circuits around Stewart Airfield and I had the controls the whole time, aside from an occasional input or two from Dave. Continuing on my pattern of "firsts" from the last few lessons, I'll mark today as the first time I didn't have a single bad takeoff or landing. At least two landings were perfect three-pointers that caused Dave to yell many encouraging and excited things from the back seat. My last landing was awesome, transitioning from a light forward slip into a great flare to bleed off the last little bit of airspeed, touching down with the stick full back ever so softly on the grass. I'll stop patting myself on the back now, but it was the perfect way to end the lesson.

Instead of going through each trip around the pattern individually (since I don't remember one from the other, to be honest with you) I'll just mention a few good points that came out of today's time in the sky. First, since I have often been coming in high and the Champ loves to float Dave suggested I reduce power to almost idle (instead of 1500 RPM) when starting my descent. This helped me maintain a better glide path and not come in too high. Second, I really walked away with a better feeling of how important airspeed is on final. The difference between 55 mph and 65 mph can be rolling an extra 1,000 feet down the runway. Watch your speed and keep it slow - but not too slow - on final! Third, I was using the rudder much better to keep the nose moving properly through my turns. I think this was a factor in keeping the entire approach stabilized, which led to the smooth landings. And on a more random note, the Champ sure climbs like an F-14 in full burner on a hot, humid summer day.

Last but not least, the best news of the day - Dave said that if I'm taking off and landing this good next time, he might have to get on out of the plane and send me back up. That's right, solo time is getting near - yikes!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 13.1 hours

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lesson 10: Lunchtime pattern work

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Scattered clouds, 79 degrees, wind variable at 4 knots

It's all starting to come together. Last time you'll recall that takeoffs started to feel good and that continued today. But the newest area of progress is landings - finally! I still am about five times more comfortable with my takeoffs but I had at least one (my first, actually) great landing this afternoon and the others were decent. It felt like I was flying pretty well and Dave seemed to agree, since he said how great I was doing on quite a few occasions. I'm glad I was able to get up again so soon after Sunday's lesson so I could work on the landing issues I had while they were still fresh in my mind. We made four complete trips around the pattern, although it only appears like three show up on the Google Earth GPS track. Not sure what happened with that. Anyway, here's how it played out...
  1. Taxied out to the runway, applied power, and tracked down the center quite well. A little yawing here and there so I had to use the rudder pedals, but we got off relatively smooth. Flew around the pattern and caught some thermal (rising air) action on downwind, so I ended up a little high. I compensated for this by reducing power sooner the next three trips around. The Champ likes to float so I was still quite high on final and put the plane into a forward slip to bleed off altitude. Dave said I did a great job adjusting my bank angle and using the rudder as the plane tried to drift off the runway centerline. We came in fast so we floated about 1/3 of the way down the runway before enough speed bled off and I flared to bring us down with a slight bounce.
  2. This time was better than the last on takeoff, I really nailed it. There wasn't much yawing on takeoff and I got us up off the ground very smoothly and tracked straight down the runway. Even knowing that we'd hit the rising air on downwind I still ended up a little too high and slipped us in on final. However this time we landed much closer to the beginning of the runway and we came down with just a slight bounce.
  3. Best circuit of the day, bar none. Takeoff was great until we hit a bump in the ground (the joys of grass runways) that launched us into the air - nothing wrong with that as I was about to lift off anyway, just a slightly more fun way to take to the air. I kept us right on altitude throughout the pattern by using a forward slip on the base leg that allowed us to fly final right on glide path. Once we cleared the trees, I went into a small slip to bring us down then rounded out and flared for a total greaser of a landing - woo hoo!
  4. Seems like my last takeoff or landing is never the best of the day, I'm going to have to work on that. Takeoff was decent and kept it in control with the rudder even though I veered a little and got us off the ground. I did manage to keep us pretty much right on the glide path once we started descending abeam the numbers on downwind, not having to slip on base. This time, I started to pull back a little too much too soon on my flare so Dave pushed on the stick to keep me from ballooning up and we landed without any real bounces.
I brought my camera and asked Dave to take a few photos from the air that I've posted below. You can see what the airport looks like from pattern altitude (1,800 feet which is about 850 feet above the ground) and some of the surrounding scenery down in Waynesville. As far as learning goes, I still need to work on paying attention to some other details in the pattern. I have to be better about not banking too steep and watching my nose relative to the horizon to keep the airpeed where I want it. I also want to try and look at the altimeter on final (yes, my eyes need to be outside the plane - but I want to get an idea for exactly how high I am to go along with the sight picture) when I'm over the trees. But considering where I was just two lessons ago, I'm really feeling good.

Climbing out shortly after takeoff

Some rather large houses we pass on upwind

Still flying the extended runway centerline on upwind

Turning crosswind

Going past the airport on downwind - the road is Rt. 42

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 12.2 hours

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Lesson 9: Takeoffs feeling good, landings... not so much

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Joe
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 79 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 12 knots

Went up with Joe for the first time in a couple weeks this evening. A little windy, but it was coming straight down the runway and the weather was otherwise gorgeous for flying. We spent the whole lesson in the pattern, working on takeoffs and landings.

For the first time, takeoffs felt pretty good throughout the entire lesson. I was using the right amount of rudder (for the most part) and kept us tracking straight down the runway, including compensating for the gyroscopic forces that make the nose want to turn left when you bring the tail up. Even got a better feel for slowly bringing the stick back and letting the plane fly right off the ground when it's ready. After lifting off, I generally did a decent job of tracking the extended runway centerline mainly using a little rudder here and there as needed. I'm thinking that this is what Dave mentioned last lesson about one day things just "click" and it's definitely a good feeling. There are still plenty of things I can fix with my takeoffs, but I feel like I made some serious progress today.

So even with all I just said above, what good are good takeoffs if you can't get the plane back on the ground? Ok, so I did bring us down each time... but it wasn't always pretty. This was the first time I've had semi-strong winds coming right at me and that was causing some issues with me on landing. Take a look at the GPS track and you'll see my pattern wasn't ever all that consistent after I turned crosswind. Most of the times up to this point I have come in high, but instead I got too low (obviously the least preferred position to be in) on quite a few of my approaches. When I was too high, I attempted to use a forward slip to bring us down but I was apparently letting the nose go way up and pulling slightly back on the stick when I banked over. That's very bad, since you could easily stall and go into a spin in such a configuration. Now I can tell you that I felt like I was pushing forward, but clearly I don't have the right sight picture and feeling for where the controls need to be when using slips so close to the ground. Joe talked with me about it but it just wasn't clicking tonight for some reason.

Since I was having issues on approach, by the time I was close to the ground and ready to flare I was pretty much "behind the plane" and did not bring the stick back fast enough. We didn't smash into the ground or anything, but I was not paying enough attention to my altitude and my flares left a lot to be desired. The last landing felt like I flared well and kept us on the ground but it was after a very hairy approach so, while nice, it was partly due to luck since I hadn't been controlling the plane properly leading up to touchdown. So overall this lesson's sort of difficult to qualify - I feel good and confident that I made a step forward with takeoffs, but I think I may have taken a step backward on the landings. I'm not discouraged, though, and can't wait to go up again on Tuesday to hopefully iron out getting myself back on the ground!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 11.5 hours

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lesson 8: S-Turns and random helicopters

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 85 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 5 knots

One of the ways to really test your piloting skills (or develop them) is to fly ground reference maneuvers. The idea is to follow a course on the ground - which sounds simple enough until you remember that the wind's blowing up in the air. In the case of S-Turns we use a long straight road as the reference point. Then the goal is to fly half-circles of a constant radius, one half on each side of the road, resulting in a "S" shaped track across the ground. When crossing the road the ground track should be perpendicular and the wings level. You have to adjust the bank angle throughout the maneuver as the wind pushes you off the desired ground track.

S-Turns over a road

We flew to a road a few miles from the airport and worked on S-Turns for about 20 minutes. Like I mentioned above, it's harder than it sounds with the wind constantly blowing you off course to varying degrees. I seemed to be having the most trouble when turning into the wind. You can see my tracks over the ground in the Google Earth file linked at the bottom of the post. For my first time it was a decent performance, but I need plenty of practice before I'll be performing them up to Practical Test Standards.

As has been the norm lately, the second half of the lesson was spent in the pattern. My first takeoff and landing actually felt very good - I tracked straight down the runway for a smooth liftoff, flew a nice rectangular pattern, and brought the plane back down softly. For some reason, the rest weren't as good. I was over-correcting with the rudder on takeoff and often came in high and had to work on holding in enough bank on my forward slips to bleed altitude on final. It's still night and day when compared to a couple weeks ago, but I know that there's a lot more practice ahead before I feel like I'm really "getting" takeoffs and landings.

I'll close with a reminder about being aware in the air at all times... when we were on downwind and turning base for the second or third landing, I caught a helicopter out of the corner of my eye flying slightly below (at about 1,500 - remember that pattern altitude is 1,800) and towards us. He wasn't in the traffic pattern and probably didn't even realize he was flying over an airport - it can be hard to spot a grass strip even if you're looking for it and know it's nearby. There's no way to know if he even saw us up there, but it's a great reminder of the importance of using a pilot's ultimate collision avoidance system - our eyes.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 10.3 hours

Monday, July 7, 2008

Lesson 7: Spins all by myself

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Scattered clouds and haze, 83 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 8 knots

Today I took an extended lunch and drove down to Waynesville to spend an hour in the Champ. It was warm and humid on the ground but the cool air was wonderful once we got above 3,000 feet - I would have stayed there all afternoon if I could have. Before heading out to the plane, Dave and I went over the second half of the Pre-Solo Written Exam that I finished as homework after Joe and I started on it last week.

Any apprehensiveness I still held towards spins disappeared over the holiday weekend. While they were completely new to me last lesson and the sensations take some getting used to, I actually was excited to get back in the air and do some more. So today I asked Dave if we could work on them a little bit and I got to do two of them completely on my own. We took off and departed the pattern to the East, climbing to 3,500 feet. Once there, I added carb heat and reduced the power to idle and brought the stick back all the way until we stalled. When you get to that stall, just kick in full rudder and the next thing you know you're pointed just about straight at the ground and rotating quickly. Then you kick in full opposite rudder to stop the rotation and pull the stick back to raise the nose and stop your descent, then increase the throttle to hold altitude. Pulling out of the dive is when you feel the most G's (about two) but it really isn't an extremely forceful maneuver.

I made one spin to the left, climbed back up to 3,500 feet, and then made one spin to the right. Each spin was only about one full rotation (called an Incipient Spin) and I lost about 500 feet in altitude each time. The sensation was different as the one in control of the aircraft, a little more subdued. There's a good chance that was because a) it was not my first time and I wasn't nervous and b) I was busy actually flying the airplane. Either way, I really enjoyed doing spins on my own. They're a hell of a lot of fun - seriously, I'm surprised it's not illegal to have so much fun. I could have spent the whole afternoon up there enjoying the cool temperatures and spinning all over the southern Ohio farmland. In the future, I'd like to try climbing up higher and practicing fully developed spins where you make more then one or two rotations.

For a better idea of what a spin looks like, check out these two videos...
YouTube: Outside View | Inside View

Unfortunately we only had time for those two spins so I flew back to the airport and practiced takeoffs and landings while flying the pattern. We had a very slight crosswind (nothing like what we had last lesson) so I had to use a minor Side Slip on final to keep us aligned with the runway. My first approach wasn't very good - I could tell I was fast but then I thought I would be alright and didn't use a Forward Slip to bleed off altitude and airspeed. Bad decision as we floated way down the runway and had to go around. Dave said he could see improvement over the next three landings as I better utilized the slips to bring us down smoothly. There were some thermals (rising air) on the Downwind leg of the pattern so I had to take reduce power somewhat earlier to keep the descent on target during the approach. Takeoffs are also starting to feel better and I think I actually managed some decent flying of the airplane off Terra Firma this afternoon. A great day to fly and a ton of fun in the air - this is the life!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 9.0 hours

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lesson 6: Spinning around

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Few clouds, 82 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 16 knots gusting to 24

There is no electric starter on the little taildraggers I fly since they don't have an electrical system, so hand propping is the only way to turn the engine over. Up to this point in training, I have been inside the plane at the controls (and on the brakes!) while the instructor has propped the plane. Today it was my turn to learn, so Dave went over all the steps with me and had me get a feel for things. Very important safety note - you ALWAYS expect the prop to come to life, so any time you pull it through you must immediately move back and to the side just as you would if you were trying to start the engine!

After the instruction, we put fuel in the Champ and it was my turn to do it for real. First you call out "brakes set, stick back, throttle closed, switch off" and, once confirmed, you push straight back on the propeller to check the brakes. If they're holding, you then pull the prop through a couple revolutions to help prime the engine. Then you call out "throttle cracked, contact!" and pull the prop through again - it took me two times and the engine roared to life. No, it's not the absolute safest practice in the world but when done properly and with the necessary precautions it works very well. Personally, I was surprised how easy it was but definitely had plenty of respect for the power and danger of the spinning prop. You can get an idea of what I was doing if you take a look at this video.

Out of all the maneuvers that I have to learn and practice during my training, I've only been apprehensive about spins. Maybe it is because I had never done them before or maybe it's something about watching the ground go around in circles while quickly falling. I flew us up to 3,500 feet and Dave took the controls for a demonstration after I practiced a few stalls. To go into a spin, you have to be stalled and then you kick in full rudder which pulls the nose to one side. Because one wing drops first, the wings are each stalled to a different degree and the one on the outside (opposite the direction of the spin) is less stalled. This produces additional lift and causes the plane to spin and since barely any lift is being generated, you drop at the same time. While you don't fall completely out of the sky, we lost about 400 feet in altitude with each revolution. Doesn't seem like much, but if you go into an inadvertent spin a few hundred feet off the ground on final approach... Yup, that's why we practice them.

Now that I've done them, what do I think? Well during the first spin (ok, and the second) I held on to the frame of the plane and kept my hands off the controls. Didn't want to grab onto the stick and pull back or push forward during the somewhat instinctive reaction to reach for something when you're falling. Really, the G forces are not that strong - only about 2 Gs. And I did not really feel dizzy even though the ground is definitely spinning rapidly and you are pointed straight down. The second time I felt better and could have had Dave demonstrate some more, but we headed to the airport to practice in the pattern. Now that I've been back on the ground for a few hours I think they're a ton of fun and am looking forward to doing them on the next lesson... and I know that they won't feel nearly as intense once I get a few more under my belt.

Since it was so windy, today was a perfect opportunity to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings. What is a crosswind? Well, airplanes always want to take off and land into the wind and when it's blowing anything other than directly towards you that's called a crosswind. On days like today when it's strong (like 20 mph) you really have to practice the techniques required to keep the plane in the right place. You have to fly a crab, which means flying towards the wind so that you actually track in a straight line across the ground. The crab direction changes as you fly different headings throughout the rectangular traffic pattern. On the ground, you hold the ailerons into the wind so it doesn't get underneath the wing and flip it up while taxiing and during the takeoff roll and landing rollout.

Once you get down to about 10-20 feet above the ground, you transition from the crab you have flown on the approach into a Side Slip so that plane is pointed directly down the runway. With the wind coming from the left today, I slipped by lowering the left wing into the wind and using right rudder to keep the nose aligned with the runway. This was my first experience with "real" crosswinds, so it was a great opportunity to get up and get more comfortable with a bumpy, windy day in the sky and learn the proper flying techniques. Dave said that he could see me improve from the beginning to the end of the lesson and I do think I made at least one rather good landing and one rather good takeoff, so progress continues!

Hope you all have a great Fourth of July... I'll be back flying next Monday.

Flight Track: Sorry - forgot the GPS today!
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 8.1 hours

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Medical: Check!

Cross another item off the long to-do list of the steps required to obtain my Private Pilot Certificate. Today I went to an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) which is a doctor authorized by the FAA to conduct examinations for medical certificates. It's pretty much a standard physical along with a few other procedures: checking for color blindness, getting to pee in a cup, and every guy's favorite part - the hernia check.

To go a little more in-depth, I want to discuss the three different classes of medical certificates. Each higher category involves a slightly more thorough examination and includes or supercedes all requirements in lower classes. However, these higher classes are generally only necessary for exercising the privileges of more advanced pilot certificates than the basic Private Pilot that I am training for. Also to note, since I know a lot of people wonder about this, is that for any class of medical you may wear glasses or other corrective lenses for all vision testing.
  • Third Class - necessary for Private and Recreational pilots, along with Student pilots flying solo, valid for 3 years (2 years if you're over 40 when it's issued)
  • Second Class - requires better vision than a Third Class and is necessary for Commercial pilots, valid for 12 months
  • First Class - the most restrictive class and the exam includes an EKG, necessary for Airline Transport Pilots (the airline folks), valid for 6 months
I passed as expected and walked out of there with a Third Class Medical Certificate and my Student Pilot Certificate. For whatever reason, the FAA has it set up so your student certificate and medical come together on a single piece of paper. What that means is I can now legally fly solo once my instructor says I'm ready - yikes!