Monday, April 9, 2018

Up, down, go around

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: MGY, Local 
Instructor: Matt
Weather: Overcast, 33 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 5 knots

This morning I continued my march towards satisfying the insurance company's requirements. Specifically, we spent a while in the pattern. It's not the optimal way to build hours but I do need more practice and familiarity with the more complex airplane. It's also a bit of a necessity with haze and 1500 foot ceilings.

The less-than-ideal weather meant nobody else was doing much flying. With a very light wind blowing directly across the runway, we were able to depart and land in both directions. One jet departed about halfway through the flying but otherwise the airport was totally quiet. We did flirt with the idea of flying to Clinton County Airport about 20 miles away but quickly abandoned it and turned around when the clouds began dropping about a mile out of the pattern.

It's nice to have the airport to yourself sometimes

I arrived at the hangar early to complete my preflight, so we pulled the plane out, climbed in, and had the propeller turning not long after Matt arrived. The plan was simple - every variation of takeoff and landing we could muster, with a few other tidbits thrown in along the way. We started with a basic takeoff and landing, then added in the short and soft field varieties.

Taxiing back for departure after one of the landings, Matt asked where I would go if I couldn't extend the landing gear. I said I'd find the nearest big airport (e.g. Dayton International) where they have emergency equipment on-site, just in case. He said that was a great idea.

Assuming such an airport isn't an option, we also discussed the merits of pavement versus turf. After some good discussion I think it was clear pavement is nearly always the best choice. Sure, you'll scrape the hell out of the bottom of the plane, but pavement is, well, solid. The plane is far more likely to scrape along while remaining upright whereas there's a chance it could catch something on uneven turf and next thing you know you're upside down.

Left base for Runway 20 at Wright Brothers

As we continued flying, I could feel things becoming more habitual. There are many new things to me in this plane - propeller control, landing gear, and cowl flaps in particular - that simply haven't been available to me before in the cockpit. Accordingly, I'm well aware I need to get better at making them part of my checks and flows.

Having spent many years flying simple Cubs and fixed-gear 150s and 172s, things as common as the GUMPs check (a popular pilot mnemonic for gas, undercarriage, mixture, and propeller) are simply not yet a normal habit. Some pilots are taught GUMPs from the beginning of their training and I can certainly see why - even if your gear is always down, it's a very good habit to engrain beginning on day one. Alas, I haven't really used it until now so I need to quickly burn it into my brain. I'll freely admit I am still forgetting it at times. However, my intention is to always run my GUMPs check on base.

Matt warned me we'd go around on one approach so I wasn't totally surprised - and also so he could brief me on the procedure. Basically, it's full throttle, flaps to 20 degrees, positive rate of climb, gear up, and then slowly retract your remaining flaps while climbing. Except he did add a surprise by grabbing the flaps switch and telling me they were stuck in position at 20 degrees so we'd have to circle back around to land with flaps extended.

I thought that was a great practice scenario. Unlike a 150 in August on a short runway, the 182 still climbed reasonably well with the flaps extended and gear retracted. I certainly needed to use more power to maintain airspeed and we flew a little slower once I leveled off at pattern altitude (you can't exceed 95 knots with flaps extended beyond 10 degrees) but the airplane flew just fine. The biggest effect was the amount of additional forward pressure I had to apply on the yoke at the beginning of the go around before I was able to re-trim.

There really isn't anything earth-shattering to report about a bunch (10, to be precise) of takeoffs and landings. The key thing for me is I feel more comfortable than last week even though I still have plenty to polish. In particular, between the new airplane and having not flown for over seven months, my sight picture on landing is somewhat rusty; I'm having to adjust and/or add power on final far more than I would like. Still, things are moving along and I'm really enjoying my time behind the controls of this highly-capable new bird.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 381.1 hours

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Flying, now with new and improved speed and capabilities

Plane: Cessna 182 RG
Route: MGY, Local 
Instructor: Matt
Weather: Mostly cloudy, 47 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 6 knots

It's taken longer than I hoped, but today I finally started my checkout in the new club airplane, a Cessna 182 RG Skylane. The plane itself isn't new to me as I've flown in it about 15 times with friends over the past seven years. However, having never flown a complex or high-performance airplane before, the act of flying said plane does contain some important new bits and pieces.

What's a complex airplane? Basically, it means the landing gear is retractable and the propeller is of the constant speed variety. What's a constant speed propeller? It's the kind where you can adjust the pitch in flight, which effectively means there are now two controls you need to use when managing your engine power and RPMs. What defines high performance? Any engine over 200 HP; this plane has a very capable 235 HP Lycoming O-540.

Me fueling the plane on a trip with Mike back in 2013

CFI Matt and I spent the first 30 minutes talking through the systems, details specific to this airplane, weight and balance, and going over the preflight. For the most part, it really is just a big 172. The key differences are the aforementioned gear and propeller control. It's also way faster than the old Skyhawk.

A bigger airplane means a few other additional controls - cowl flaps, rudder trim, auxiliary fuel pump - to check and set. This plane also has improved avionics over your typical rental, including a Stormscope and a two-axis autopilot. Once I ran through the detailed engine start checklist, I turned the key and the big Lycoming roared to life.

A photo I took of the panel on another 2013 trip with Mike

Matt provided plenty of great tips to go along with his helpful instruction throughout the flight. Right off the bat was one about leaning on the ground; he said he idles at 1000 RPM, then leans the mixture until the engine hits 1200 RPM or starts to run rough. We reviewed the propeller controls again; I made quick use of them during the propeller governor check during the run-up.

I taxied onto Runway 2 and pushed in the throttle. Needless to say, the added power, light load, and cool temperatures made for a much more sprightly takeoff than you'll ever have in a 172. The plane leapt off the runway sooner than I should have allowed; I had to put in quite a bit of forward pressure to hold it in ground effect while we gained necessary little speed. Soon I released some of that pressure and we were climbing like a rocket at about 80 knots. "Positive rate, gear up." Within seconds there was no more runway to land on so I retracted the gear and we gained a bit more speed. Up went the flaps, too. Around 500 feet above the ground I reduced the throttle to the top of the green arc, about 23 in. of manifold pressure, and we continued our quick climb.

To start, we headed east towards Caesar Creek Lake. I could tell I hadn't flown in a while then added a fast, new airplane on top of that, as I wasn't maintaining altitude or heading very well. We leveled off at around 4,000 feet and Matt showed me his procedure for leaning the engine on this plane. It's not that different than the 172 but there is an EGT (exhaust gas temperature) gauge that makes the process easier than doing it by RPM. That and the whole constant speed propeller thing means the RPMs remain, well, constant. He also pointed out this big engine can easily burn 16-17 gallons per hour instead of a proper 12-13 gallons if you don't lean properly. That could certainly eat dangerously into your fuel plan if you don't pay attention!

We did a few steep turns; they were not my best as I easily gained or lost 100 feet. Rust noted. Then I slowed down for slow flight and realized how much power this plane has; I reduced the throttle all the way down to the bottom of the manifold pressure gauge's green arc and it still took a while to slow to 90 knots. We did a power-off stall, which was also not unlike a 172. Heavier in pitch but, in similar fashion, the plane just sort of mushes along and you have to apply a ton of back pressure to get any notable break. On the way back to Wright Brothers we also did a series of S-Turns over a country road and reviewed how to operate the autopilot.

Returning to the pattern, the difference in speed was again noticeable. You're on top of the airport much more quickly at 140 knots than 95! Matt talked me through the usual landing procedures and speeds as we approached. I had slowed some as we crossed midfield to enter a left downwind for Runway 2 but the additional speed meant everything was occurring faster than what I've grown accustomed to.

I lowered the gear abeam the middle of the runway and added 10 degrees of flaps. Mixture to full rich and propeller to full RPM. Abeam the numbers, carb heat on, throttle back to 1500 RPM and begin descending around 80 knots. Turning base, flaps to 20 degrees and maintain speed. Turning final, full flaps (if desired) and aim for 70-75 knots until crossing the numbers.

On the first landing, I flared too high but Matt spoke up in time for me to correct and we touched down reasonably smoothly. I knew coming in the 182 requires way more back pressure on the yoke in the flare and landing but, after that first landing, I didn't feel it required as much force as I had anticipated.

We then did a series of takeoffs and landings - short field, soft field, and normal. This plane has so much power that, for soft field takeoffs, you really have to modulate the back pressure to prevent the nose from reaching for the stars as you pick up speed. It takes a ton of forward pressure to hold the nose down and remain in ground effect to gain airspeed after you take off. For short field takeoffs, you have to use quite a bit of forward pressure to hold the nose on the runway until reaching 55 knots but then the plane easily speeds up to 65 knots as you raise the gear and clear your (pretend, for today) obstacle.

As far as landings go, all were effectively of the normal variety. Both they and the takeoffs improved with each lap of the pattern; I was starting to better anticipate the plane and was just flying smoother in general. The final takeoff, a normal one, was actually quite smooth - I added power, rotated, lifted off, raised the gear and flaps, and established a climb in one reasonably fluid process.

Coming around for the final landing, Matt opted for preferred trick in every CFI's book: a simulated engine-out. He pulled the power to idle and I immediately added carb heat and raised the nose to reduce our airspeed. I already had 10 degrees of flaps in so I left them there and turned towards the runway. This plane sinks much faster sans power than anything I've flown before but I also turned real quick and ended up lowering the flaps to 20 degrees on base. In hindsight, I should have waited until we were on short final since we had a mile of runway in front of us. Nonetheless, I easily made the runway - we touched down (my smoothest of the day) about 500 feet past the threshold and taxied back to the hangar.

Overall, it was a great day of flying. Great because it's been way, way too long since I last flew but also because I'm really excited to learn to fly a new airplane. Flying is always fun (and is the best thing I've ever found to clear my head) but I'm especially looking forward to utilizing the 182 RG for longer family trips, where it really shines.

It's also extremely convenient to have a plane based closer to our house, in a hangar, at a paved airport with lights! Longtime readers know I've had to do the overnight shuffle and morning hop back to Stewart numerous times in the past in order to maintain my night currency. I'm still a huge advocate of that awesome old grass strip - it's a wonderful place to learn and I'll certainly still be flying Cubs there for my vintage aviation fix - but my growing family means this airplane is an awesome fit for some new parts of our mission.

Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 380.1 hours

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy (Woefully Belated) New Year!

Full disclosure that I'm posting this in late February, but I always set this post to January 1st for the sake of consistency. As is abundantly clear from the almost complete lack of posts in 2017, not much flying occurred last year. So this annual recap doesn't have much content to cover.

I think I explained well in my last post (from 6 months ago - yikes!) that things understandably got quite busy with having a baby. In addition to that, I started a new job late last year. Between those two things and the typical winter weather + lack of daylight, my left seat time has taken a precipitous nosedive.

Prior Recaps: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

On a positive flying note, however, I actually joined a flying club back in November. It's a nice group of about 12 guys that owns a 1979 Cessna R182 (the official designation for retractable-gear 182s) that I've actually flown a bit with pilot friends Mike and Mike. It's hangared at Dayton Wright Brothers Airport (MGY).

I think it's a great platform for family trips - bigger payload, much faster than the rental 172, holds more fuel, and the plane is far more available. So getting checked out in the 182 (including my complex endorsement) is first and foremost on the upcoming to-do list. The new job still involves travel, but not nearly as much as some of the crazy years past, so I'm hoping to finally increase the flying hours again this year.

Total Hours: 7.1 | Solo: 3.6 | XC: None | Dual: 3.1| Night: None | Landings: 28

Aircraft Flown: C172, Cub

New Airports: None

New States: None

First Flights: 1 (Mariella!)

People Flown: 2 (just the family last year - Mariella and Gina)

$100 Burgers: None

Fly-Ins: None

What I'll Remember: It goes without saying being able to take our daughter up for her first flight is a milestone I assume any pilot can appreciate. We flew commercially a week later (and she did quite well) but I simply couldn't allow that to be the method by which she left the ground for the first time! I didn't write about it on the blog but in August I flew down to Sumner Co. Regional Airport (M33) in Tennessee with pilot friend Mike (in the same club 182) to witness the solar eclipse, which was incredible.

Totality of the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017

2017 Goals: Given my lack of goal achievement these past couple years, part of me feels like I should change them up. That said, I still really would love to experience a glider flight sooner than later. In a similar vein, although it's probably pretty unlikely with a newborn coming in May, it would be nice to start work on the IR. I think the most realistic goal is my Complex checkout, especially if I am able to join the local club some friends of mine are in.

^ At least I made a move in the right direction. I've joined the club now (which means I'm now paying whether or not I'm flying!) so I absolutely need to get checked out in the airplane.

2018 Goals: Get checked out in the R182, which will include my Complex endorsement. Once that's complete, I would definitely like to start on the IR. I'd also like to take some family trips this year once I'm comfortable in the new airplane and fully current again. Beyond that, it's always nice to take friends and coworkers flying for the first time and I think I may have some opportunities to do so - especially having started a new job.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

We're now officially a flying family

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 69 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 5 knots

I've been hinting at this for a while now. Of course, I wanted to feel 100% current and fully in possession of all my flying faculties prior to taking our little girl flying. Parenthood has a way of shining the spotlight on conscientiousness and responsibility.

She was all decked out in appropriate attire

Mariella was in a rather good mood this evening (per usual - we really did get lucky as she's quite the happy baby) as we got her changed into a proper first flight outfit. Gina and her said hello to everyone in the office while I preflighted the airplane. Once everything was ready, I carried her over to the 172 and buckled her car seat into the back of the plane. She fell asleep not long after.

Strapped in and sound asleep

Gina buckled herself up next to Mariella in the back and I ran through my checklist and started the engine. Apparently the little one perked up with the noise of the engine but quickly nodded off again. Gina ended up cutting down some regular ear plugs for Mariella's tiny ears, since the baby headset I bought is too wide on her head when she's wedged into the infant car seat.

Her reactions on short final and landing are priceless (about 1:10 and 1:35 in the video)

Once I was completely sure the plane and passengers were all ready to go, I taxied onto Runway 8 and we took off into the calm evening sky. Mariella was awake at this point and stared at Gina while chewing on her hand - a favorite pastime - as we climbed out. She seemed pretty content.

A happy family together at 2,500 feet

I made very shallow turns and leveled at about 2,500 feet. It was already late in the evening so I anticipated a short flight from the start. Nonetheless, I heard a few cries behind me as we flew down the valley so I turned gently back towards Stewart about five minutes after takeoff. Turns out someone decided to convert the clean diaper to the non-clean variety; that usually results in notable crankiness.

Passing by the lake on our way back to Stewart

A great sunset for moving into our next chapter of flying

We were on short final about ten reasonably good minutes later. Mariella was still a little fussy, as expected, but she really did quite good overall. Gina gave her a pacifier and that kept her calm for the most part. She made some pretty good bug eyes when the main wheels touched the bumpy turf, too.

So, as the title of this post says, we're now officially a flying family! We'll be flying commercially next week so we'll see how that goes - but I think it goes without saying that I couldn't let Delta have the honor of providing my daughter's first flight. I was pretty impressed with the little squish on her first aerial experience. Here's hoping this is just the start of a long, long tradition of family flying adventures.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 379.1 hours

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flight: Reviewed

Plane: Cessna 172 
Instructor: Tommy
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 71 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 4 knots

At some point in the past month, I received one of those handy email currency reminders from my electronic logbook. But I've finally been flying again and I know I've made more than enough takeoffs and landings for currency purposes, so I thought it must be an error? Turns out, when you don't fly for the better part of a year, those two years between BFRs sneak up on you.

I have taken a variety of courses to earn FAA WINGS credit, so the knowledge portion of my currency is, uh, current. However, for what I hope are obvious reasons, the FAA likes pilots to go up in the air and actually prove they can still fly with a CFI. I planned to do so a week ago but I was sick (food poisoning is no fun) and had to reschedule. Tommy thankfully had enough free time this evening to fit me in, so we met after work and got to it.

A checkride's worth of maneuvers in one GPS track

The long and short of tonight's flying is that it was a much-needed and very good review. Despite my recent logbook additions, I am clearly still rusty in some areas. Overall, I am just nowhere near as smooth and fluid as I can be when I'm notching regular time in the left seat. Tommy did a great job running me through a whole bunch of maneuvers and offering important reminders and tips.

We started off with a soft field takeoff, during which I climbed out of ground effect too quickly. It feels strange to push the nose over so much after rotation to fly level along the ground (and it doesn't help that the ground quickly slopes downhill ~15 feet on Runway 8 at Stewart) but that's what you're supposed to do; we tried this again later. Next, we flew east and I successfully demonstrated steep turns, slow flight, and power-off/on stalls.

Tommy suggested going to Greene County; the winds were calm but he spotted a plane waiting to take off near the end of Runway 7 so I crossed midfield and entered the pattern. He asked for a short field landing so I used all 40 degrees of flaps and touched down within 200 feet of the numbers. It wasn't my best, though, and improved speed control and a touch less power on short final would've let me perfectly plant it. While taxiing back for takeoff, he asked me what I would do if my elevator jammed and we discussed that scenario for a few minutes...

Back in the pattern, he informed me that my elevator was now jammed (courtesy of him holding the yoke to prevent me from pushing or pulling it) and I needed to land. I explained my plan, which was to use the trim and power while flying a longer final approach to help ensure things were as stabilized as possible. I throttled back, slowly lowered the flaps as I made my way around, and hit the stop on the trim while on final. On very short final, I tested kicking in a burst of power to raise the nose and it seemed to work, so that was my plan in the flare. We crossed the numbers in a roughly level attitude at about 65 mph. Entering ground effect, I pushed in throttle for a second or so, and the extra power slightly raised the nose so the mains touched just before the nose wheel. The landing was honestly pretty smooth - yes, we planted it on the runway, but it wasn't a total carrier landing. Most importantly, I actually landed the airplane without using my elevator!

I really want to thank Tommy for the simulated elevator jam exercise. I've certainly thought about what would happen if I lost a control before but never tried to actually simulate it in flight. He said one of his old instructors did the same thing and I absolutely agree it's great practice.

After taking off again, I put on the hood and we did a little simulated instrument work. It's been way too long since I last did that so it was also great practice. Sidenote - training for my instrument rating is finally in my near-term plans. My skills are crude at best but I managed to turn to headings and climb/descend per his instructions. Then he gave me a few unusual attitudes to recover from and I successfully did so.

Before long, we were back at Stewart. Tommy pulled the power on me abeam the numbers and I made a safe simulated engine-out landing. The next time around, after doing a better job with the soft field takeoff, I attempted a soft field landing. I leveled off a tad too high and didn't add enough power to achieve a perfectly soft touchdown, but I held the nosewheel off and it was good enough to call it a day.

Currency and proficiency are more important to me than ever now that I'm responsible for our entire growing family whenever we fly. Beyond simply having a calmer work schedule that should allow more flying, I really hope to finally start training for more advanced ratings. But regardless of when that commences, tonight was a great refresher that left me legally current for the next 24 months.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 378.7 hours