Saturday, March 28, 2009

Checked out in the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Broken clouds, 55 degrees, wind 090 degrees at 8 knots

While I flew the Cub a few times during my primary training, I've never been officially checked out in one for solo flight. So I scheduled some time with Dave to add another airplane to my list at Stewart. The same front from last night was still moving in, but it held off long enough for us to go up for about an hour.

The 85 hp Cub is about as much fun as you can have for $62/hour. Takes off and lands on a dime, but has more than enough power to quickly climb away. We launched and I climbed while circling up through a hole in the broken clouds to 3,500 feet. Ironically, there was some virga (rain that evaporates before reaching the ground) up there above the low clouds and we got a free windscreen cleaning. I wish I had my camera with me, as the view when we broke through the hole and climbed above the lower layer was spectacular.

I did some steep turns and then transitioned into slow flight and then to a power-off stall. The Cub just about flies at a standstill and the stall was very tame. Then I added in power and made two power-on stalls. The first I let a little aileron in by accident so a wing dropped and I corrected with ailerons level and opposite rudder. I paid better attention to the stick position and hung it on the prop next time. Again, it's got so much power that at full throttle it sort of just hangs there in a coordinated power-on stall. Unfortunately the clouds made it impossible to do any spins since we could have accidentally dropped into one, so those will have to wait for a future flight.

A quick descent via some left and right forward slips took us down 2,000 feet and into the pattern. I made takeoffs and landings of the short/soft field and normal variety. For the short field takeoff, we were airborne by the third cone lining the runway, or in less than 300 feet. Good times. Compared to the Champ (which will float for miles) the Cub really drops when you cut the throttle. For the soft field landings I just kept in a couple hundred RPM in the flare and she sat down ever so softly. I swear, I land the taildraggers better than the darn Cessna. Chalk up another plane on my list - I can now fly the Champ, Cubs, 150s, and 172 out of Stewart.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 95.2 hours

Friday, March 27, 2009

Crosswinds, clouds, and go arounds

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-I68-40I
Weather: High overcast, 57 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 7 knots

While the forecast of partly cloudy never panned out today, it looked nice enough when I was sitting at my desk at the office this afternoon that I called Stewart and reserved the 150 for some practice. A front is headed this way but the haze dissipated enough that visibility was good and ceilings were over 5,000 feet. Winds were out of the East so I planned to fly down to Lebanon-Warren County for some crosswind practice.

If you recall, I was a bit concerned about the RPMs on 60338 last flight and pulled the carb heat just in case there was any icing. Remembering this, I was extra cautious and did a full-power runup just to check the RPMs before takeoff. Everything looked great, but as I accelerated down the runway I only saw 2,400 RPM at full throttle (it's usually 2,500 to 2,600 RPM) and I immediately pulled the power and aborted the takeoff. First time I've ever done that, but I feel it was the right thing to do.

I did another full-power runup and saw 2,500 on the tach, so I rolled on to the runway. This time I held the brakes for a short field takeoff and ensured I saw 2,500 before releasing them. Again, everything looked great and I didn't notice anything abnormal for the rest of the flight. But it's definitely something I might need to have them take a look at if I notice anything again.

I made one circuit in the pattern at Stewart before heading over to Warren County. I've felt myself regressing as of late in terms of my rectangular pattern. They're all rectangular, but I'm frequently overshooting my turn to final. In a self-evaluation after the flight, I decided that I think the problem primarily occurs when the wind is pushing me towards the runway. Now, I'm crabbing to maintain a track parallel to the runway but I'm not offsetting far enough away from the runway. So when I make the downwind to base turn I get pushed too close to the runway. I'll keep this in mind and see if it fixes the problem.

Overshooting aside, my landings were decent. The tree line at I68 makes for some fun landings, as the winds shift all over the place at about 50 feet above the surface. I also have been coming in too low a little bit in general lately and having to add power on final. So that's another thing to put more focus on. Anyway, I was able to lower the wing into the crosswind and touch down safely (if not always gently) each time. I even was able to make two short field landings and managed to hit the first turnoff to the taxiway, which is only about 800 feet from the displaced threshold. On my final landing attempt (where I had been planning to make a touch and go) the wind threw me all over the place about 20 feet from the surface and I elected to make a go around and head back to Stewart.

Heading back, I climbed to 3,000 feet and did some steep turns. I had been reading a recent article in AOPA Flight Training magazine that talked about the benefits of doing 720-degree steep turns in lieu of the standard 360-degree turns I usually practice. So, wanting to give it a go, I first made a 720 to the left and followed that with an immediate entry to a 720 to the right. On the right turns I actually hit my wake a couple times on the second revolution and the little jolt is a nice indication of a stable turn. I was nearly over top of Stewart so I made a steep descending turn down to 1,800 feet to enter a 45 for the left downwind for Runway 8, right behind the Champ.

A quick descent after the steep turns into the pattern at Stewart

Since I wasn't very far behind the Champ, I extended my downwind to make a short field landing. This approach was stable all the way down and I stopped in about 400 feet, turning off before I reached the top of the hill. Dave (who was in the Champ with a student) was talking to me later and commented on how the student couldn't believe how short my rollout was. Gotta impress the teacher, right? I made a few more laps around the pattern and made two simulated engine out landings, both times turning base-to-final early so I dumped in all 40 degrees of flaps and quickly dropped it down right near the end of the runway. Better to make the airport in an emergency situation than to come up short is my theory. On my next-to-last landing, I was following the Champ a little close (they had quickly turned off earlier and I figured I'd see if they cleared the runway in time) but at about 50 feet they were still in the process of turning off so I made a go around. Good practice in a realistic situation (plane on the runway) and that's why I followed closely in the first place.

Going up tomorrow, weather-pending, to get checked out in the Cub! Once that's done, I'll be allowed to solo the Champ, Cub, 150, and 172. Then I'll just have to try and stay current in all of them...

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Total Time: 94.3 hours

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Taking some friends sightseeing

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I-MGY-40I
Weather: High overcast, 48 degrees, wind light and variable

We had some good friends from college come down from Michigan over the weekend to visit, so I figured what better way to show them around Dayton than from the sky. While we would have all fit comfortably in the 172, it only has the 2-place intercom and I haven't got around to buying a portable 4-place yet. Plus, I think the 150 has an all-around better view for pilot and passenger since you're closer to every piece of plexiglass. So in lieu of loading up together, I took our friend Kristin up for about an hour and then came back to Stewart and picked up Sarah for the repeat flight. All told, I was up for 2.2 hours and never went more than about 20 miles from the airport.

You can see the two flights took nearly the same path

Kristin wanted to go up first, so after my pre-flight and topping off both tanks I explained some things to her on the ground. How to operate the doors and seatbelts, that I'd ask her to pop the door if we had to land off a runway, pointing out any traffic, etc. Safety briefing complete, I fired up 60338 and taxied to the end of the runway. She said she was ready and I pushed in the throttle and we smoothly rotated into the sky. I flew us out over Caesar Creek Lake, then down I-71 to the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge where the Interstate crosses the Little Miami Gorge. Then it was North and directly over the cities of Waynesville and Bellbrook, which we had driven through on the way to the airport. Next I flew past The Greene (a huge shopping area about a mile from my apartment) and over my apartment before turning South to stay clear of Dayton's airspace.

I started a descent from 3,000 down to 2,000 in preparation for entering the pattern at Wright Brothers. Once on the 45, I pointed out the neighborhood where our new house is (haven't closed yet, but it's mine!) and we flew right over top of it as we turned base to final. I brought us down for a very soft landing and taxied around and set up for a short field takeoff. She enjoyed leaping from the ground and we climbed straight out and exited the pattern on a direct course for Stewart. I came in on a 45 for a left downwind to Runway 8 and followed a Cub for another soft landing.

First passenger happy and safely back on the ground, I brought Sarah over and went through pretty much the exact same routine. The winds had shifted, so we departed on Runway 26 this time. I took a relatively identical route, almost surprisingly so when I looked at the GPS track in Google Earth.

The one thing on this flight that had me concerned was the possibility of carb ice. For the non-pilots, the vaporization of fuel inside the carburetor causes a large drop in temperature and if there's enough moisture in the air ice can form on the inside and block airflow into the engine. My runup showed no adverse indications and we launched smoothly into the air. However, nearing pattern altitude I noticed my RPMs appeared about 100-200 lower than normal. I immediately pulled the carb heat and climbed while circling around the airport to stay within gliding distance if we had any problems. As I was doing this, I explained to Sarah I was just checking to make sure everything was operating fine and I was staying near the airport for a minute. She understood and wasn't at all bothered by it so I'm glad that, as a pilot, I was able to give an explanation without unnecessarily worrying anyone on board. I turned the carb heat off after a few minutes and the RPMs looked about normal. There never was any engine roughness or anything that would indicate ice had been present prior to pulling the heat. Nonetheless, I kept my eye on the tach throughout the flight and pulled the carb heat again a couple times just to be sure.

Comfortable that the plane was in safe condition, we continued on and followed the same route South over the brige and then North before heading to Wright Brothers. Being a nice spring day, the traffic had increased and I entered the pattern on the 45 for Runway 20 as number three to land. The approach was smooth and stable but right when the wheels touched I caught a light gust of wind that lifted a wing a tad and put a slight side load as I kicked the rudder and tried to straighten things out and touch the mains softly. Unfortunately, I ended up touching before everything I said above was completed so we landed a little rough. She still thought it was pretty smooth but I know I could have done better.

Never one to want the last landing to be a bad one, I told her I'd make one more lap around the pattern. We departed with a short field takeoff and then I made a touch and go (nice and smooth, I might add) and followed with a straight-out departure right on the extended centerline before turning towards Stewart. I overflew the field and made a teardrop to enter the 45 for a left downwind to Runway 26 and brought us in for a very soft landing after we cleared the trees on short final. Once I'd taxied back to the tiedown, Sarah said she had also had a great time up there. Two for two on the day, not bad!

It really was an awesome day to be able to take some old friends up, especially since I hadn't seen them in a long time and they'd never flown with me. Both have flown in a small plane before (we have another mutual friend who is a pilot) so that may have helped them in terms of being excited about the flight in the first place. The weather was pretty good throughout the flight, but due to the front moving through (hence the wind/runway shift at Stewart) there were a few bumps at times. Still, it was a beautiful day to fly and I think that it personally was a great PIC experience for me in taking up two new passengers and maintaining situational awareness and positive control while pointing out some sights.

They both took lots of photos and once they send them to me, I'll add a few to this post. UPDATE: Photos below added 4/11.

Opening up the plane to start the pre-flight

Helping my friend Kristin into the plane

Just about ready for takeoff

Inside the cockpit during our taxi down the grass

Taking to the air from Runway 8 at Stewart

Flying over the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge, which spans the Little Miami River

Downtown Dayton in the distance

Somewhere over Dayton with my friend Sarah

Flying over The Greene, a huge outdoor mall by my apartment

Departing from Wright Brothers Airport

Doing my best to be a good pilot ;-)

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.2 hours
Total Time: 92.7 hours

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Back in the 172 with Dave and Gina

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Overcast, 48 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 6 knots

Two flights in two days has reminded me just how much I love aviation. Nothing in particular, but just the freedom of it all and how relaxed and happy I am after I shut the plane down. Tonight I took the opportunity to fly the 172 with a passenger in the back (Gina) and a CFI up front. Why fly with Dave? Well, I've only flown the Skyhawk once before and it was three months ago - and I've never flown it with anyone sitting in the back. So before I start loading it up with people I wanted to at least fly heavy once with an instructor on board. Just seems like the safe and prudent thing to do. Plus, he's an awesome guy and it's been too long since we flew together. Gina hadn't flown with me since New Years Day either, so I'm glad she was finally able to get up again.

About 5 miles away from the airport on the drive there it started to drizzle but luckily the precip never got any heavier. We talked with Dave and Joe inside the office for a few before heading out to preflight the 172 in the very light drizzle. She was still warm from an earlier flight so the engine turned over quickly and smoothly and I taxied down to the end of the runway. Full power added (I love the smooth growl of the 6-cylinder engine) and we accelerated down the grass and into the sky. Visibility was decent as I climbed up to 3,000 so we could practice slow flight.

After hanging on the prop with the stall horn blaring and making 90-degree and 270-degree turns, I pulled the throttle to idle and let 2814L slow until she nosed over for a tame power-off stall. Uneventful and Gina didn't thought it was pretty boring. This would be a good time to mention the intercom in the 172 is only a two-place, so we were flying without headsets so we could (sort of over all the noise) talk. It also meant I wasn't talking over the radio, but with the crappy weather we figured Wright Brothers wouldn't have any traffic, since they seem to mostly have fair-weather flyers there. My head was on a swivel and I turned on the landing light to help other pilots see us, but the stereotype proved true as nobody else ever showed up while we were there.

On the ground after a semi-decent normal landing (the wind's always fun on short final to Runway 2) we taxied back and I made a short field takeoff. You really have to yank the plane off the ground and I didn't use enough force right away. Dave told me to pull hard and we lept off the ground, climbing away at Vx. Back around, I set up for a short field landing and made a very stable approach. Power off and the stall horn was almost instantly on as the wheels touched right on the numbers. I hit the brakes and we slowed down well in time to take the first turnoff about 900 feet past the threshold. It was definitely one of the best short field landings I've made in a long time. Gina said she didn't like this landing because she was sure I was going to hit the lights. Obviously I found that pretty funny, but it definitely reminded me of how much I used to think I was sure to run into trees on short final into Stewart when I started training. It takes a while to get a feel for the sight picture, that's for sure.

Ready to head home, Dave said I should make a F-172 takeoff. For those of you who recall my training way back in October you may recall the lesson when he showed me what he calls the F-150 takeoff. Just a way to have a little safe fun, right? So I took off and flew about 50 feet above the runway until we were about 1,000 feet from the end going around 90 knots, then pulled back and we quickly climbed a few hundred feet before I pitched down to a normal climb speed. Gina of course thought this was way too much fun sitting behind me in the back seat.

When we were taxiing at Wright Brothers she had told Dave she liked power-on stalls better so I climbed up to 3,000 again on the way home and did one. It's still surprising how tame and boring they are in the 172 compared to the 150, which is always ready to drop a wing in a heartbeat. I then made two steep turns before a quick descent down into the pattern at Stewart. Dave asked for a soft field landing and I may very well have squeaked out the best one I've ever made. The wheels softly grazed the grass as I left a little power in and held the nose wheel off as airspeed slowly bled off. Yup, I'm quite proud of it!

We've got two college friends visiting next weekend and I blocked off some time in the 150 to take them up. I might switch to the 172 if we want to go somewhere, but with the two-place intercom it might not be fun if we can't talk much. Regardless, I hope the weather cooperates and I get to have some fun with new passengers. It really is wonderful to be able to fly more regularly again... sometimes it's hard to know how much you miss it when you're away!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 90.5 hours

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Yes, I am still a pilot!

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High overcast, 33 degrees, wind 030 degrees at 7 knots

Hard to believe, but nearly a month has passed since I last hopped into the left seat of an airplane. I certainly didn't intend to go this long between flights but winter weather and a busy schedule have kept me grounded. Thankfully, with the start of Daylight Savings Time, I can finally fly any day of the week once again. The weather was great tonight with about 10 miles visibility and nothing below a high overcast layer at 10,000+ feet so I gladly hopped in the 150 for an hour.

Looking at the airplane logbook as I entered in my starting Hobbs time, I saw my name at the top of the sheet. Clearly I'm not the only one who hasn't been able to get up in the sky. There were only about 10 names (and therefore flights) between today and my name next to my flight to Columbus on February 15th. In fact, nobody had flown 60338 since last Thursday - a whole week. So I made sure I was very thorough during my preflight, going about the whole process methodically and slowly.

Surprisingly, considering the cold temperatures, she started up very smoothly after three shots of primer and a fourth shot that I fed in slowly once the engine began to turn. I let the engine warm up for 5-10 minutes and then taxied over to the fuel pump to add 10 gallons to the right tank. Then she again started up smoothly and I taxied across the field and down to the departure end of Runway 8 to run through my CIGAR checklist. The radio was still inop. (if you recall, it died on my way home from Columbus last time) so I elected to just hang in the pattern at Stewart and work on takeoffs and landings.

Not the most consistent track around the pattern I've ever made

The landing biplane cleared the runway and I taxied on while slowly advancing the throttle as I began a normal takeoff. Everything was going great and I lifted off the grass very softly. But at about 300 feet I realized I had neglected to retract my 10 degrees of flaps. No safety concern there as I was well within the white arc (flap operating range, for the non-pilots) but it was a good symbol of the rust I clearly had after not flying for a month. The cold temperatures made for good engine performance, as I looked down and saw a climb rate of 1,000 feet per minute and I quickly reached 1,800 feet - pattern altitude.

Other than forgetting to retract the flaps soon enough on that first takeoff, I felt pretty much on my game the rest of the flight. The only exception is that I was either flying about 10 degrees off heading or not compensating for the wind properly and I overshot my final on most of my landings. But I just gently flew back in line with the extended centerline when that occured. I ended up making six total takeoffs and landings, switching up between normal, soft field, and short field versions. I pulled my power on the third or fourth time around and made a nice gentle arc back to the runway and dumped in all 40 degrees of flaps to quickly descend when I had the runway made. Altogether, my landings were really (surprisingly, I might add) smooth if not a bit flat.

So there you have it, I finally got back in the air. Hopefully I start to get into a more regular flying schedule with the increased daylight hours and improving weather. I've also been a bit swamped (and watching the bank account) because I'm in the middle of buying a house so my free time will improve when that's all done with too. I reserved a slot with Dave in the 172 on Saturday so I can get some more experience in that plane before I try and fly anyone else around in it. Until then, safe flying for the rest of you!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 89.5 hours