Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Lesson 6: Spinning around

Plane: Champ
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Few clouds, 82 degrees, wind 220 degrees at 16 knots gusting to 24

There is no electric starter on the little taildraggers I fly since they don't have an electrical system, so hand propping is the only way to turn the engine over. Up to this point in training, I have been inside the plane at the controls (and on the brakes!) while the instructor has propped the plane. Today it was my turn to learn, so Dave went over all the steps with me and had me get a feel for things. Very important safety note - you ALWAYS expect the prop to come to life, so any time you pull it through you must immediately move back and to the side just as you would if you were trying to start the engine!

After the instruction, we put fuel in the Champ and it was my turn to do it for real. First you call out "brakes set, stick back, throttle closed, switch off" and, once confirmed, you push straight back on the propeller to check the brakes. If they're holding, you then pull the prop through a couple revolutions to help prime the engine. Then you call out "throttle cracked, contact!" and pull the prop through again - it took me two times and the engine roared to life. No, it's not the absolute safest practice in the world but when done properly and with the necessary precautions it works very well. Personally, I was surprised how easy it was but definitely had plenty of respect for the power and danger of the spinning prop. You can get an idea of what I was doing if you take a look at this video.

Out of all the maneuvers that I have to learn and practice during my training, I've only been apprehensive about spins. Maybe it is because I had never done them before or maybe it's something about watching the ground go around in circles while quickly falling. I flew us up to 3,500 feet and Dave took the controls for a demonstration after I practiced a few stalls. To go into a spin, you have to be stalled and then you kick in full rudder which pulls the nose to one side. Because one wing drops first, the wings are each stalled to a different degree and the one on the outside (opposite the direction of the spin) is less stalled. This produces additional lift and causes the plane to spin and since barely any lift is being generated, you drop at the same time. While you don't fall completely out of the sky, we lost about 400 feet in altitude with each revolution. Doesn't seem like much, but if you go into an inadvertent spin a few hundred feet off the ground on final approach... Yup, that's why we practice them.

Now that I've done them, what do I think? Well during the first spin (ok, and the second) I held on to the frame of the plane and kept my hands off the controls. Didn't want to grab onto the stick and pull back or push forward during the somewhat instinctive reaction to reach for something when you're falling. Really, the G forces are not that strong - only about 2 Gs. And I did not really feel dizzy even though the ground is definitely spinning rapidly and you are pointed straight down. The second time I felt better and could have had Dave demonstrate some more, but we headed to the airport to practice in the pattern. Now that I've been back on the ground for a few hours I think they're a ton of fun and am looking forward to doing them on the next lesson... and I know that they won't feel nearly as intense once I get a few more under my belt.

Since it was so windy, today was a perfect opportunity to practice crosswind takeoffs and landings. What is a crosswind? Well, airplanes always want to take off and land into the wind and when it's blowing anything other than directly towards you that's called a crosswind. On days like today when it's strong (like 20 mph) you really have to practice the techniques required to keep the plane in the right place. You have to fly a crab, which means flying towards the wind so that you actually track in a straight line across the ground. The crab direction changes as you fly different headings throughout the rectangular traffic pattern. On the ground, you hold the ailerons into the wind so it doesn't get underneath the wing and flip it up while taxiing and during the takeoff roll and landing rollout.

Once you get down to about 10-20 feet above the ground, you transition from the crab you have flown on the approach into a Side Slip so that plane is pointed directly down the runway. With the wind coming from the left today, I slipped by lowering the left wing into the wind and using right rudder to keep the nose aligned with the runway. This was my first experience with "real" crosswinds, so it was a great opportunity to get up and get more comfortable with a bumpy, windy day in the sky and learn the proper flying techniques. Dave said that he could see me improve from the beginning to the end of the lesson and I do think I made at least one rather good landing and one rather good takeoff, so progress continues!

Hope you all have a great Fourth of July... I'll be back flying next Monday.

Flight Track: Sorry - forgot the GPS today!
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 8.1 hours

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