Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Taking the Skylane to the sky and going places

Plane: Cessna 182 RG
Route: 40I, Local 
Instructor: Matt
Weather: Scattered clouds and haze, 38 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 5 knots

After yesterday's time in the pattern, I was more than ready to go somewhere. The weather was much improved this morning with just some typical morning haze and scattered clouds. Matt again met me at the hangar; I'd already nearly completed my pre-flight when he pulled up. Within a couple minutes, we had the engine turning and I was taxiing to Runway 02.

We popped into a few airports I haven't visited in a long time today

I took off and quickly turned southeast towards Clinton County Airport in Wilmington. I've landed there before, though it had been a long time - the logbook says it was in August 2009! We were level at 3,500 feet in no time and I leaned the mixture and reduced the RPMs for cruise. Reviewing the GPS track, our ground speed was nearly 160 knots.

Have I mentioned I love the Skylane's power? :)

That speed also means it only takes a few minutes to go relatively far. I anticipated this, of course, but I still had the airport in sight in seemingly no time. We weren't quite down to pattern altitude when only a few miles out, so I opted to continue the descent in a gentle 360 degree turn. By the time the circle was complete, I'd leveled off and we entered the pattern.

My first landing and subsequent takeoff were of the regular variety and acceptable. The second time we came around I decided to try my best at a short field configuration. I extended my downwind and lowered full flaps on final, maintaining about 65 knots. I was too high so I brought the power to idle to hasten the descent. The main wheels touched shortly past the threshold and I applied the brakes. We turned off at the first taxiway, which means we landed and stopped in no more than 1,200 feet. Not bad.

It really was a beautiful morning to be in the sky

Next we headed to Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport. Traffic there has been declining for years since they lost their Air National Guard F-16 squadron, but I didn't realize their part-time control tower was totally gone until I looked at the chart. Apparently that occurred sometime between my last landing there in 2013 and now.

Despite the 9,000 foot runway, I still approached too low and had to add power on final. Matt gave me some well-deserved crap for that, especially considering I'd just (intentionally) come in way too high on my final short field approach at Clinton County. Needless to say, I haven't quite got a feel for the Skylane's sink rate, nor am I consistently flying a stabilized approach. My landing was at least good and, given the excessive remaining available runway, we stopped and then took right back off continuing west towards Dayton.

Flying below the scattered clouds between Springfield and Moraine

Our final stop before returning to Wright Brothers was Moraine Airpark. It's another great local airport, probably the one with the best atmosphere and collection of aircraft owners who all love to hang out at the airport and spend time together. I've been there numerous times, most recently just last summer.

The airport is along a bend in the Great Miami River, with a levee just at the end of the runway you have to watch out for on short final. I ended up a bit high on final but the sink rate and full flaps brought me in over the levee into a smooth flare and touchdown not far beyond the end of the runway. Things were finally starting to feel a bit more habitual and fluid.

It was nearing time for me to get to work so we taxied back and departed again on Runway 26. Seven minutes later, we were back on the ground at Wright Brothers. My approach and landing there had probably my best flow yet - while I may not yet be ahead of the airplane, I certainly wasn't behind it.

There is still much to learn with the new airplane. Adjusting to the increased speed and power isn't something that happens overnight. I just need more time in more situations to feel fully comfortable and really get into a rhythm. That said, I'm already confident in my ability to fly it and keep the plane in airworthy condition!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 382.3 hours

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