Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally flying a 172 all on my own

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I66-40I
Weather: Clear, 65 degrees, wind 020 degrees at 5 knots

Although I've been up in the 172 three times with Dave now, those being a checkout, re-checkout, and re-re-checkout, I've never flown one solo. That's the goal of course, but between all the time I spend in the Cubs and 150s there just hasn't been enough time for me to stay current in the 172. But it is something I intend to do, especially since it's a great bird for longer cross-country flights. The weather in these parts has been fall-like (i.e. the best flying weather of the year) for the last week and promises to continue until at least Labor Day so I took advantage and went flying with Gina tonight.

Heading East across Caesar Creek Lake

I was extra thorough during my preflight due to my unfamiliarity with the 172 and all checked out well. Fuel measured out around 23 gallons, which is about 2 1/2 hours including reserves. Since it would be dark within an hour and a half I decided this was more than enough, especially since we were just staying in the area. So I started the smooth six-cylinder O-300 and taxied down to the end of Runway 8. Winds were generally light and out of the East all day but I noticed the windsock at Stewart was being a bit shifty when we arrived. As we accelerated down the runway, I kept in a little left aileron to counter a slight crosswind. We were quickly climbing straight out at around 700 fpm as I held in a fair amount of right rudder. Just like when I last flew the 172 a month ago, it's very noticeable how much more right rudder you need to counter the torque of that engine up front than in the 150 or Cub.

The reflection of the panel on the window's kinda neat

Thanks to the horsepower and our light weight, we were at 3,500 feet in no time. After some clearing turns, I set up and did two sets of steep turns. I felt that I did pretty good as my altitude and airspeed remained steady. We even blasted through our own wake when transitioning from a left turn to a right turn the second time around. Then I transitioned into slow flight and made some gentle turns with 20 degrees of flaps hanging out. I had to throttle pretty far back (around 1,800 rpm if I recall) to hold altitude as our light weight made 2814L want to keep climbing.

Next I pulled the throttle to idle and did a couple very smooth power-off stalls. After this, I cleaned the airplane up, pulled the carb heat back out, and reduced power to slow down to about 65 knots. Once slowed down, I pushed in the carb heat and throttled up to full power for some power-on stalls. Again, with us being so light that airplane did not want to stall. I gained about 500 feet and we were still climbing on the edge of stall at around 45 knots. Finally, I really yanked on the yoke and got the nose to drop gently. Compared to the 150, the 172 is sooo much more docile.

Just some random Ohio scenery

More random Ohioey-ness

By this point we were up around 4,500 feet so I pulled the carb heat out and throttled back to idle. We were headed to Clinton County Airport, which was only about 5 miles South of us. What better way to fall out of the sky fast than a forward slip? Well, yes, I know there are steep spirals and whatnot, but I digress. I pushed in full right rudder while adding in a significant amount of left aileron and we were soon descending at around 2,000 fpm. Partway down, I switched over to a right forward slip (that's just using the opposite control inputs for the non-pilot readers) before leveling out around 2,500 feet. Then I turned towards the airport while descending the final 500 feet to pattern altitude.

Forward slips are fun - look at us drop!

A plane we saw while maneuvering - it's over the silos

Even though it's only 12 nautical miles from Stewart, I'd never landed at Clinton County (I66) before. I love to add new airports to my ever-growing map over there on the right side of the blog so that's enough of an excuse for me to go somewhere new. Plus, the winds meant we'd be using Runway 3 and our location set us up for an easy 45 degree entry to the pattern. So that's what I did, entering on to the left downwind and bringing us in for a normal landing. Everything went smooth as silk until that last foot above the ground, where I promptly showed Gina what a nice "thud" feels like.

I had figured that, since there's rarely much traffic at I66, it would be a good place to get in a bunch of takeoffs and landings. As you can imagine, Mr. Murphy must have known I was thinking that and stuck another three airplanes in the pattern. Not that I have a problem with traffic, mind you, but since you have to back-taxi about 500 feet to reach the departure end of Runway 3 that tends to force you to sit longer when others are in the pattern. Anyway, I was able to get in two more takeoffs and landings before it was time to leave. The takeoffs were super-smooth but neither landing was anything to write home about.

On the ground at Clinton County Airport

After all my time in the 150, the heavier control forces in the 172 definitely take some getting used to. I had the same issue last time I flew, although I figured it was at least in part due to the fact I was flying at night. Long story short - nope, it was just my crummy piloting and needing to carry a little more energy into the flare. On my second or third landing, I added a touch of throttle on short final to try and smooth things out. While it did help, I'm still not satisfied with any of my landings in the bigger bird... I think an afternoon in the pattern might be in order.

Climbing away from Clinton County after our third takeoff, the sun was sitting near the horizon as I turned to the West and pointed the nose towards Caesar Creek Lake. Visibility was excellent and even with the low sun I was able to spot Stewart almost immediately after takeoff. As we approached, I could see the Stearman over top of the airport practicing an aerobatic routine for their annual airshow this coming Saturday. With my landing light and strobes on, they saw me and broke off as I entered on a 45 to the downwind. Again, my pattern was smooth and the plane felt real stable but my landing wouldn't have won any awards. It was the best of the evening since I made corrections based on the earlier ones, but still not great in my book.

Sunset as we headed back to Stewart across Caesar Creek Lake

Seeing as how you can't pass up great flying weather, I'm glad we were able to head up tonight and take in the scenery along with me having time to practice maneuvers. Continuing on the 'take advantage of the weather' theme, I scheduled the 85 hp Cub for tomorrow evening. That's actually what I wanted to fly tonight but it was booked and I'm glad I was able to go up and spend some time in the 172 as the only pilot on board. Nonetheless, there's nothing better than a Cub down low with the door wide open and that's exactly what I'll be partaking in maƱana.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 124.2 hours


  1. Good to see you in the 'hawk. Hope you can keep it going! After I get my insurance I will be ready to leave the nest on my own.

  2. Yeah it's definitely a more stable platform than the 150. On the way home, I trimmed out and flew hands off for a good 5 minutes before entering the pattern at Stewart.

    I haven't been able to find a time to head up your way yet but I'm still hoping to before all the good weather disappears. Perhaps later this month or in October? I know there will be plenty of gorgeous days over the next two months or so.

  3. Nice report of the C172. Definitely more stable than the 150, and good for XC flights. Come back to the 150 for those nights you want to bore holes in the sky with steep turns and manouvers and it will feel like a sportscar.

  4. Nice write up...great pictures, too. I didn't know "Ohioey-ness" looked so nice from the air. I haven't flown anything smaller than a 172 (combined, my rather portly CFI and I weigh enough that we'd have to fly a 152 without fuel) - I'm curious to try one of the club's 152s now...maybe I can go up with my CFI's wife (she's also a CFI, and quite petite).

  5. Yeah that's a real technical term, Paul. I may have to trademark it now.

    I do love the 150, although I might not be able to call it a sportscar like Rob. ;-) To me, that description goes to the Cub - I can't hand it over to anything controlled with a yoke. But it's definitely a great bird and very responsive compared to the 172.

    Overall, I've got to agree - 172s are great for going somewhere and also a stable IFR platform. On the other hand, 150s are a blast for maneuvering and tooling around in the sky. And if you want to see a wing drop like crazy in a power-on stall, you need to look no further than your friendly neighborhood 150!

  6. Steve,

    Great writeup as usual. I doubt your landings were all that bad but when I went from the 152 to the Warrior (much heavier plane), I had the same problem with the thumpy landings.

    It's just a different flare, and you'll get the feel for it. Think more long and drawn out. Round out over the numbers, then ease the yoke back - you'll feel the speed dissipating.

  7. Thanks for the good advice Keith - I'll try and do that next time I fly the bigger bird. You're right, none of the landings were scary-bad, just not good in my book either.

    The issue indeed exists between rounding out and touching down. Between the extra weight and heavier control pressures I think it's just going to take some old-fashioned practice to get the feel down.

    A slight increase to the AOA in the 172 at flare will probably result in a soft landing whereas in the 150 doing so would cause me to float up. I remember it seeming like I dropped in too soon most times so I probably need to hold back a little stronger to prolong the flare and set her down softly.

  8. Taildragger fly-in on Sunday? With pancakes?? I might just put that on the schedule!

  9. Yup, breakfast served from 7am to 11am. I'm going to put up a post on here about it shortly. Come on down and visit!