Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just me and the airplane

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 8 knots

Apparently the fall weather got mixed up this year, since October was way more like November and November is currently doing its best October impression. Clear skies and 70 degree post-Election Day temperatures in these parts mean you darn well better try and get airborne. Thankfully, I reserved the 150 a couple weeks ago since I knew my travels would preclude me from doing tons of piloting this month. I arrived at Stewart shortly before noon, pre-flighted, and topped off the tanks - in shorts, no less!

Over 110 miles covered without ever leaving sight of home
While I had originally hoped to go somewhere today, the lack of recent flying time changed the mission to local practice for currency. I made four laps around the pattern at Stewart first, alternating normal and short field takeoffs and landings. My speed got a tad low for my liking a couple times on short final but three of the four landings felt good and my second two takeoffs were great. Not a bad start and I had a 60-degree crosswind to work with, too. Then I flew over to Wright Brothers and knocked out four more laps around the pattern in similar fashion. My first two landings were iffy as I got a tad slow again on short final, losing too much energy, and set down rather abruptly. On the bright side, the direct headwind made for some fun short field takeoffs with a minimal ground run. I also made one no-flap approach and landing along with an early crosswind-to-downwind turn following my third takeoff to clear the way for a departing jet.

A quick climb up to 3,500 feet or so and I was ready to practice maneuvers. I went through a series of Dutch Rolls, then transitioned into slow flight. I made a 180 to a heading of 200 to point directly into the headwind and see how slow I could get my ground speed. Then I pulled the power and made a few power-off stalls. All were coordinated and uneventful so I climbed up to 4,000 and did three power-on stalls. The first was good, the second nothing to write home about, and the third really good where the nose dropped without any roll of the wings at all. I still am a bit apprehensive about practicing power-on stalls in the 150 (since it loves to drop that wing in a heartbeat) but I forced myself to do a few and am glad I did. More practice is still in order - I absolutely need to feel totally comfortable doing them, in my own humble opinion.

Since I was up plenty high, I figured that would be a good time to practice forward slips. I didn't see any traffic (admittedly I didn't do a full series of clearing turns - more on that in a second) and pointed towards Stewart as I alternated left and right slips. About thirty seconds in, I saw something white out of the corner of my eye as I was in a left (meaning left wing low, right rudder fully deflected) slip and immediately released the controls to level off. Sure enough, I looked to the right and about three seconds later saw a Cherokee flying perpendicular to my path about 500 feet below. It's a see-and-avoid situation and I take total responsibility for not seeing the plane and performing additional clearing maneuvers. For the record, I don't think the other plane ever saw me even though they were a low-wing and should have had me in view. I also realize that having my left wing so low left me almost blind to traffic coming from that side. Needless to say, that's why a midair collision is perhaps my most feared thing about flying - even if you do everything right you still might never see the other plane until it's too late.

After checking very thoroughly for any more traffic, I continued my descent and decided to take a quick spin around the lake. There were a few boats out so I stayed around 600 agl to maintain legal separation but remain low enough to really enjoy the view. I circled around the East side of the lake, flew over the beach, rocked my wings to the folks below, and then pointed towards Stewart. I quickly realized I was passing close to the glider port (no traffic was in the air but I was still too close) and maneuvered to the right to avoid their pattern before heading back to the left so I could swing around to enter the pattern at Stewart. This time I came in for a short field landing and set the plane down smoothly on the grass.

My main issue with my performance today was situational awareness - primarily in navigating around the traffic pattern near the glider port as well as the close traffic during the forward slips. I always look for an area to improve upon next time out and there's no question where my weak spots were today. On the bright side, both the plane and I are fit to fly another day so I can carve a couple more notches into my experience tree. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied with what happened and I can only strive to do better in the future.

I'm traveling like a mad man right now (Tampa, New York, and Oregon within ten days) so I haven't had much time to write. But I just wanted to let you all know I'm working on my post recapping my time at the AOPA Summit and hope to get it up here in the next day or two.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Total Time: 140.1 hours


  1. Steve, Thanks for the reminder to do clearing turns, always. Still, safer than driving to the airport. Thanks for the post. Happy travels.

  2. I hate to be the bearer of bad (factual news) but GA flying is actually 7 times more fatal than driving in a car, on par with riding a motorcycle. On the other hand, when it comes to flying the airlines you are still absolutely more likely to die during the drive to the airport.

    The important takeaway is that as GA pilots, we need to continually work towards improving our safety and risk management skills!

  3. Hi, i am a budding pilot training at Chimes Aviation Academy ( in India. I came across your blog by accident and i must say that head winds do make flying a little difficult. I am training on a Cessna 172. Although I am still in training I have observed that flying is quite safe on a Cessna.

    Just waiting for the day when i can cover miles like you do on the wings of my bird!

  4. Rahul - congrats on getting your start in aviation! You'll come to enjoy head winds when you work on short field takeoffs and landings; there's nothing like stopping the airplane in 500 feet. Keep up the training and enjoy the view along the way. :)