Saturday, January 30, 2010

How'd I do after 85 days off?

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Emerson (for 0.5)
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 24 degrees, wind 020 degrees at 10 knots

When I passed my checkride I said to myself that I wouldn't ever go more than two weeks without flying in order to stay comfortably current. Of course, I didn't own a house then and it wasn't yet winter. Needless to say, life gets in the way sometimes and nearly three months elapsed since my last time in the left seat. So, while not specifically required by Stewart since my last flight was less than 90 days ago, I decided it would be best to err on the cautious side and have a CFI ride along.

The sun was shining and it was absolutely frigid out but that wasn't going to stop me today. Winds were blowing steady out of the North and would provide a strong 10-12 knot crosswind. Nothing like some real flying conditions to keep you on your toes!

I'd never flown with Emerson before although we have talked plenty of times at the airport. He met me out at the 150 after I had finished my thorough preflight and hopped in after I topped off the tanks. Three shots of primer, carb heat on, and the still lukewarm engine (from the last student) came to life using the cold start procedure. The field ranged from a light covering of snow and ice to slightly soft grass but was mostly hard due to the well below freezing temperatures.

I taxied on to Runway 08, pushed the carb heat off, applied full power and lifted off with one of the smoothest crosswind takeoffs I have made in the past year. Emerson and I talked a little bit as I made my way around the pattern until I added in the carb heat abeam the threshold. As I descended and turned final with 30 degrees of flaps hanging out, it took nearly full rudder at times to stay aligned with the centerline while in a sideslip. I touched down smoothly and held the nose off as I allowed the plane to slow down without using the brakes.

Emerson looked at me and said, "so why am I sitting here?" I replied, "because - and you can ask Dave - after a nice trip around the pattern like that I usually manage to do something completely stupid on the next lap." With that, he remained in the right seat and I taxied back to the end of the runway.

I made two more circuits with two more of the best takeoffs and landings I've done in quite some time. On both landings, I used 20 degrees of flaps and kept my speed up a few knots for a little more rudder authority in the crosswind. Each time, I held the plane off longer and touched down very softly. While taxiing back for my third takeoff, a family of deer ran across the end of the runway so I kept a watchful eye out for them. Emerson commented after my third landing that he really liked how I was holding the nose off the ground as long as possible. I then dropped him off (at least he got to do some aerial sightseeing!) and headed up one final time solo.

Again, the takeoff was very smooth and I scooted around the pattern quickly. It sure is hard to argue with the performance of a half-loaded 150 in below-freezing temperatures! As I began my descent, I decided to make my approach with only 10 degrees of flaps this time since I wanted to land long and shorten my taxi. Shooting down final I was able to transition from my crab into a sideslip and again touched down very softly on the left main.

I have to think the performance was due in part to a little extra focus since I had not flown in so long. Maybe there was some subconscious motivation to stay sharp since I was flying with Emerson for the first time. Those crosswinds sure required me to focus on the stick and rudder skills, too.

In the end, the fact that I was finally able to get back up was the important thing. It's always a great feeling as I pull out of Stewart on to US-42 in my car after another successful flight. Nothing like reflecting on the view from above after I return to the ground. That I was able to string together a series of the best takeoffs and landings I've made in months after such a long break is just icing on the cake.

Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 140.8 hours


  1. sounds like you've got the X wind landings down man! nice work. I know if I took 85 days off I'd be a little rusty, but you didn't seem to have that problem.

    keep up the blogs man, best of luck!

  2. Thanks, but even though I consider myself a fairly competent pilot I have to think at least a tiny bit of it was dumb luck!

    I certainly hope I can avoid this long of a layoff in the future.

  3. Steve, I've found the same thing and I think you're theory has merit. I went about 60 days without flying the Warrior, and I think having to lean a bit on the checklist and focusing a little more on your technique gives you an edge. I did 3 really good landings and 1 plain good one. Glad to see you're back in the saddle, now bring on the warmer weather!

  4. Like with golf (and many other skills) a prolonged layoff leads to the absence of bad habits. As the season progresses the bad habits creep back in. However, there are exceptions to the rules. In my training I've found that my first landing is better than my last. Do you use the same soft field techniques in the winter as you do the summer?

    Sharks play the Wings tomorrow, go Sharks!

  5. I agree on all counts, guys. No doubt that I paid extra attention to the checklist on this flight.

    Generally speaking, my soft field technique is the same in the winter. I definitely avoid using the brakes unless absolutely necessary to prevent them from icing up... and try to keep rolling to avoid getting stuck. With the crosswinds the other day though I held a little more airspeed than I might have on a standard soft field day - but I did hold the nose off as long as possible with the yoke to the stops.

    Go Wings! (they need all the help they can get right now)

  6. The Wings sure have the Sharks number, huh? Oh, well. I just hope we don't have to meet them in the playoffs.

    Wintery weather here has me skiing more the flying, tough life!

  7. Always good to get back in the air. I have to agree, we all tend to "fly by the numbers" a bit more when knocking off the rust.

    Another vote for warmer wx....especially with the snow hitting the mid-atlantic this weekend.