Sunday, February 8, 2009

True Soft Field Practice

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Damon
Route: 40I-I68-40I
Weather: Haze, 45 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 4 knots

What do you get when a foot of snow and ice melt in the span of three days? On asphalt, a puddle here and there. On a grass strip, lots and lots and lots of muddy turf. As you know, our airport is of the latter type so today turned out to be a great day to practice.

It was so soft that they weren't allowing solo flight, so I went up with CFI Damon for the first time today. He does a lot of IR training so there's a good chance we'll fly together again in the future. Wow, that sounds strangely sentimental... but I digress. I told him I wanted to practice the obvious (soft field) along with some emergencies and general stuff to keep current.

We climbed into trusty ol' 60338 and, with a good deal of the throttle pushed in, taxied out of her spot and over to the fuel pumps. Then it was a taxi (gotta make sure you don't stop) up to the top of the hill for my preflight checks and a turn around (don't use the brakes!) to check the pattern before we continued the taxi right onto the runway without stopping for a soft field departure. It wasn't too bad, but I climbed up a little too high to build up speed and therefore didn't do my best at taking advantage of ground effect. The skies looked clear from the ground but it was quickly obvious that the haze made the reported 7-10 miles of visibility a rather optimistic figure.

Damon suggested we fly to Lebanon Warren County Airport (I68) for some landing practice. I was happy to fly there as it's the only really close airport to Stewart (all of 6 miles away) that I had somehow managed to not yet fly to. They have right traffic for Runway 1 due to skydiving operations and I entered on a 45 to the right downwind. Numerous planes were in the pattern and the guy in front of us apparently took the scenic route so we had to extend our downwind to about 3 miles away from the airport to sequence in behind him. The PAPI at I68 seems to have a higher glideslope (like 4 degrees) because it sure as heck put me what felt like way high when I held two whites and two reds.

We first made a soft field landing and, while a little left of centerline, I touched down pretty smoothly while adding in a little throttle to hold off the nosewheel. We taxied back for takeoff and had to hold a minute for landing traffic and another plane waiting for departure. I made a short field takeoff this time but pulled up a little too steeply and Damon corrected - nothing major, just could have left ground effect a second too soon. Otherwise it was another uneventful (and extended, due to traffic) trip around the pattern. I brought it in for a short field landing but floated some because I tried to follow the PAPI too long instead of focusing enough on the threshold. We landed fine but it could have been better, so we made another lap around the pattern and I set it down just past the threshold and got on the brakes in time to take the quick turnoff onto the taxiway.

Back at the departure end, Damon asked for a normal takeoff. There's nothing like gently leaping to the sky from a smooth patch of pavement and this one was no exception as we smoothly lifted into the sky. On downwind, he pulled the power to simulate an engine-out and I brought it around great but we would have landed a little shore of the displaced threshold. He noticed I turned a little late but that was partially because another plane was on final when he pulled the power. Once I knew he was clear of the runway I headed straight for the end. In a real emergency, I'd have made it and would have turned even sooner. Anyway, in went the throttle and we executed a go-around. Good to see I'm still sharp on those emergency procedures.

We climbed up to 2,800 and did some steep turns - a 360 to the left and then two 360s to the right. On the second to the right, he watched for traffic and had me do it solely by reference to the instruments. That one was spot on and it was good to pay better attention to the attitude indicator in keeping my altitude in check. We then climbed a little more and did a smooth and uneventful power-off stall before continuing with a power-on at 2,000 RPM, which I recovered from gently. The final task was a full-power-on stall (2,600 RPM) that took forever to coax a break out of thanks to the cool temperatures. When it finally nosed over it tried to rotate towards a spin but I caught it instinctively with rudder, reduced the throttle, and pulled us out without much altitude loss. I was very happy to see I made all the right moves pretty much completely by reflex during the stall practice.

Damon said I was flying really well all day and I found it great to get some feedback from a new instructor. He pointed out that some instructors might think some of my climbing turns in the pattern are a little too steep and I'll absolutely try and be more cognizant of that in the future. Nothing unsafe, he said, but just something to take note of. At this point we were descending and a plane appeared quite suddenly less than a mile in front of us, possibly departing from Stewart. I maneuvered well clear as we were entering the pattern but it's always a good lesson on a hazy day to be reminded how fast things can appear. I brought us down for a soft field landing and touched down pretty gently (not my best ever) but didn't remember to hold aileron into the mild crosswind. Overall, there were some little hiccups here and there but it was great to see I haven't picked up all that much rust while spending the last couple of weeks on the ground.

I've got one of these in my name now...

Oh yeah, my permanent certificate arrived in the mail on Saturday - woohoo! It took 77 days from passing the checkride until I had the certificate in my hands. Wow, hard to believe it's been 77 days (well 78 now) since I got my ticket - sheesh. Anyway, it's awesome to have a piece of plastic with the Wright Brothers' portraits on the back and my name on the front!

Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 86.8 hours


  1. I'll be looking forward to one of those pieces of plastic soon. I hope.

  2. oooh fancy pilot badge! congrats!

  3. Someday, when I get mine, I'm going to order one of them fancy plaques from Sporty's and nail it to our front door :)

  4. Not gonna lie - I've showed it to plenty of people already. ;-)

    I'd have posted a photo of mine on here but it's probably best keep the creepy stalkers away - meaning everyone outside of the usual folks posting around here!

  5. Hi Steve: Thanks for your great contributions on Zillow Blog. Did you watch the interviews with the pilot of Flight 1549? The one that went into the Hudson? Fascinating.. I wonder what you thought of that whole ordeal.

  6. Diane - No problem and hopefully I've been somewhat helpful on there! I'm trying to figure it all out for myself along with everyone else.

    I have seen many of the interviews with the crew (Couric, Letterman, and Larry King to be specific) and obviously followed the whole story pretty closely. No doubting that it was an incredible story and great piloting but I do think it wasn't as miraculous as some made it out to be. Nobody in that cockpit's going to do anything other than try to save everyone's life and I'd venture a guess that the river would have been just about everyone's best option. Luck did play a factor - low clouds or hitting the birds 1,000 feet lower could have made this much more catastrophic. But overall, a great job by a well-trained crew that's a testament to the training and safety we have in commercial aviation and air traffic control today.