Friday, June 20, 2008

Lesson 3: Steep turns, slips, takeoffs, and landings

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 78 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 5 knots

You can't ask for a much better way to end the work week than with a flight on a beautiful clear evening. I went up for about an hour tonight with Dave, who I had been scheduled to fly with a month ago before some weather-related cancellations. Due to my work schedule (having to mainly fly in the evenings and on weekends) and the availability of instructors and planes, I will likely be training with both Dave and Joe now as I work towards my certificate... which will help me stick to my goal of getting up at least once or twice a week. Tonight I arrived a little early and went out to preflight the plane. Dave spoke to me in some additional detail about the fuel capacity of the Champ, since the gauge was only reading about 1/4 full. Even when it reads empty there are close to 7 gallons left in the tank, so we had plenty for an hour up in the air around the airport.

Once she was started, I did the CIGAR check before we taxied to the runway. Unlike last time, I remembered all the steps and felt more comfortable running through the list. One thing I still have to work on is remembering to "make a box" with the control stick when checking the control surfaces. I then taxied over towards the runway and did a 360-degree turn to check for traffic in the pattern. I can definitely feel myself improving when it comes to controlling the plane on the ground, to the point that it's starting to seem slightly natural. Dave had me follow through on the controls (meaning I place my hands and feet on the stick and pedals, respectively, to feel his inputs without applying any pressure myself) on takeoff. It's important in taildraggers to first hold the stick all the way back when you advance the throttle but to then move it all the way forward once you start moving to raise the tail off the ground, and then slowly bring it back to neutral. Once you have enough speed, the plane will take to the air on its own. On climb out, Dave pointed out some silos up ahead that are perfect reference points - if you stay aimed at them you follow the runway centerline away from the airport on climb-out as you are supposed to. Very handy tip!

This would be a good time to explain a traffic pattern (the diagram below is from Wikipedia) like I said I would a couple of blog posts ago. Basically, it exists to ensure that airplanes arriving and departing from an airport stay in a logical path and away from each other. The most common pattern is called left traffic since planes make left turns from one leg to the next. Right hand patterns do exist, but I'm going to be talking about a left pattern here since it's what we have at my airport. When you take off and head straight out from the runway, that turns into what is called the Upwind leg since airplanes generally take off into the wind. Crosswind is when you make the first 90 degree left turn and are perpendicular to the runway. You then make another 90 degree left to turn Downwind - on this leg, you usually reduce the throttle and start your descent when you are abeam (across from) the end of the runway headed in the opposite direction from which you just took off. Base is the next leg, when you continue descending and making preparations to land. Final is when you are lined up with the runway and making a final descent that will bring you back down on to the runway to land. The traffic pattern altitude is generally 1,000 feet above the ground level except in some special cases.

Back to the flight, after takeoff I turned Crosswind and Downwind, pausing the climb at pattern altitude (1,800 feet) until we were abeam the end of the runway, then resumed the climb up to 3,000 feet. We paused since you should be at pattern altitude whenever you are actually in the pattern. Dave had me perform some basic 90 degree and 180 degree turns and then we moved on to new things. While I had seen these next three maneuvers demonstrated by Joe on my last lesson, today was the first time I tried Steep Turns, Dutch Rolls, and Forward Slips on my own.

You definitely feel some G forces when you do steep turns, and I noticed a tendency to bank further when I went to the right because I felt more Gs going in that direction. Talking after the lesson, we discussed how it's harder (or more awkward) to hold the same amount of control pressure in a right bank due to the position of the stick in your right hand. Think of arm wrestling - it's way easier to go to the left (if you're right handed) isn't it? In flight, the wings produce tiny vortices at the wingtips and if you do a proper Steep Turn while holding altitude you will feel a slight bump when you complete a 360 degree turn as you fly back through those vortices. I actually did this on my turns and it was very cool to actually experience it up there, especially my first time with the maneuver.

Dutch Rolls were interesting and one of the keys I learned from Dave was to lead with your rudder (before you bank with the aileron) and let the plane carry itself through the roll. Slips are a but counter-intuitive since I have spent the better part of three lessons trying to always fly coordinated and now I had to intentionally apply aileron one direction with opposite rudder. I actually ended up in a right slip (nose points to the left) when I had meant to go into a left slip, but you increase drag and lose altitude the same no matter which direction you're pointed. All told, Dave said that I did a good job for my first time with the maneuvers and I am really beginning to feel more comfortable up there.

Instead of heading back to the airport and calling it a day, we did some work in the traffic pattern. I flew the plane back towards the airport and into the Upwind leg - approaching as we did, you fly parallel to and about a quarter mile to the right of the runway. From there, it's a standard turn to Crosswind and then to Downwind. Once abeam the numbers you add Carburetor Heat, pull back the throttle until the engine is at 1,500 RPMs, and trim the elevator so that you are descending at 60 mph. This descent continues through Base and then Final as you line up with the runway. I was a little high so I got to enter a Forward Slip to lose altitude and then brought it back out and aligned the plane with the runway a few feet off the ground. The goal is to do a "three point landing" where the two main wheels and tailwheel impact the runway at the same time - I don't know for sure if we did this, but the landing was pretty smooth. I then taxied back down alongside the runway, took off, flew another complete pattern, and landed back at Stewart.

What do I think was my biggest improvement this time out? Taxiing, hands down. I felt like I was really in control and was able to keep the aircraft pointed right where I wanted on the ground, even during rollout on the runway after landing. After the first landing, the taxi back for takeoff felt quite good and it was even better after we came back down for good. The plane needed more fuel, so I got to see how to properly use the fuel pump and add some good ol' 100LL to the gas tank for the first time. Dave and I stuck around the airport for a while talking about the flight and some other maneuvers and then I helped get some of the planes into the hangar for the evening. Right before I left, we put the Champ away and I got to taxi it back across the field and really felt good with my feet on the pedals. So aside from the in-flight progress, I definitely feel like I have made a solid step forward when it comes to getting around on the ground!

Today's Flight:
0.9 hours
Total Time: 5.2 hours

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