Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lesson 8 - Best. Flight. Ever.

In perfect contrast to the somewhat awful experience I had last week, this flight was amazingly fun. As we discussed, I wanted to slow things down a little and do some confidence building. Today we had very nice weather and smooth air. We did the Four Fundamentals (climbs, descents, turns, level flight) and I did them quite well if I say so myself. I took the time before we started maneuvering to really get the airspeed trimmed just right. The key I've learned to this is two-fold. First, you really have to take your hand off the wheel and just wait a few seconds and watch it. Secondly, when your instructor starts to tell you what you need to do next, you kinda put up your hand and just say, hang on a sec... I'm working on something here. That worked surprisingly well. I figure it's my nickel so if I want to spend an extra minute in level flight that's on me. :-)  I found it time (money) well spent as when I performed maneuvers I found that the airspeed and altitude stuck like glue. There were a few moments when I wondered if the altimeter was even working as it appeared frozen. That was a really great feeling.

Then it was back to the field to practice landings. I did 4 full stop landings. After each we taxied back to the end of the runway to do it again. With no wind these were fairly easy. All in all the day was exactly what I needed: a confidence boost..

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lesson 7 - Too much like work

Got a good lesson in how turbulence and affects the airplane. After a full cross-wind takeoff, I got bounced around like ice in a shaker for an hour. Low ceilings limited what we could accomplish. We stayed close to the airport and did "S-Turns" across highway 15. For the life of me I could get nothing right. If my turns were OK my altitude control was way off. I never once felt like I had the airplane truly trimmed for level flight. Thermals and turbulence kept me bouncing around. Once I smacked the side of my head against the window frame pretty good. At one point my altitude was off by over 500 feet. Ugh.

We switched to some basic VOR navigation which I did somewhat better at. Found our way back to the airport by following the 120 LIBerty radial and attempted an approach to landing again in a full 10 kt crosswind. Betsy took over on final and demonstrated the wing low technique. She rushed the landing too as our time was up and she had places to be. All in all I felt rushed through the whole lesson. Just as I was starting to understand a technique we were on to the next thing.

Then while tying down the ship I somehow managed to crack my skull into the pitot tube. OW! Seeing stars, and with a pounding a headache I left the ramp with the distinct thought that this flying thing had suddenly turned into something that resembled hard work way too much. It was a decidedly un-fun day. During debrief I let Betsy know that I felt like I was behind the lesson the whole time and really just wanted to take a break from learning new things. I need a review lesson to make sure I really have the basics down and regain my confidence. She let me know that we could certainly do that, but that maybe I was being too hard on myself. She said she'd struggle to maintain altitude with what the wind was doing. I dunno... I felt pretty clueless out there today.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

2nd Saturday Cookout with Family

I took the whole family to the club for the first time. Evan's seen it, but it was new for Evelyn and Chloe. All had fun I think. Starting to get everyone acclimated to the environment. This time Chloe got to ride the golf cart with our CFII driving.

Oddly, there were no brats. Pancakes and eggs instead. An odd choice for lunch I thought. But I guess they wanted to mix things up a bit.

I gave everyone a tour of the place. I tried to entice Evan to sit in the flight simulator but he wasn't having any of it. I'm sure he will sometime soon. Then we walked through the hangar and out to the ramp. I uncovered a warrior and Evelyn and I sat in it. Soon Chloe took Evelyn's place. I think she really enjoyed. Evan stayed nearby, but wouldn't come in the plane. Slow steps...

Then we went on a long walk down to the FBO to see what was what there. We ran into George (CFII) and Chloe on the golf cart. Introduced myself to the man at the FBO and he let us have a look around. It looked like a very nice facility. Nice pilot's lounge. Classroom, break room, lobby for passengers, etc. I don't know what's "typical" yet at small airports. But from reading reviews online I think this one would measure up nicely.

The FBO (Fixed Base Operator) is who I call to come fuel the plane after I'm done with a lesson. I've noticed that they always arrive quickly and get the plane filled up in just a few minutes. I think this place as set the bar high and I may be disappointed with other airports. We'll see. That's a few months down the road I think.

This evening at home at bedtime, Chloe was coming up the stairs and she called to me, "Daddy come and see this." She pointed at a shadow on a wall formed by part of the railing around our staircase. "Daddy, doesn't that look like an airplane tail?". Why yes, yes it does in fact. I was tucking her in and she asked when she could fly with me. Yeah. She's hooked.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lesson 6: Playing Hookey & Early Morning Fog

Since we had to scrub our weekend flight, I decided to fly instead of working today. All in all a much better way to spend one's morning. Luckily I have a work situation that is quite flexible so I can take a few hours here and there.

I'd been watching the weather and Thu & Fri were forecast to be quite nice days for flying. I scheduled a 09:00 flight. Betsy had sent out warnings throughout the week to her students telling us to keep an eye on the dew point. Each morning this week there were small temp/dewpt spreads. This means fog potential. There were fog or mist reports throughout the region each day.

The report was for foggy weather overnight and clearing in the morning. I left the house with overcast skies at 08:30. By the time I got to the airport it was beginning to break up, as predicted. By lift off time, it was blue skies and perfect flying weather. It was really interesting to watch how rapidly that early morning fog lifts. Fog of course has significant impact on any flight operations. If we can't see the end of the runway we're not flying.

Had a lovely flight though. We did more fundamentals. I moved up from 20° to 30° banks. I mentioned that 30° felt less safe than a nice 20° turn. Betsy let me know that if I liked that one, wait til I had to do 45°. I'll need to know these for my practical test. She then offered to demonstrate a "steep turn" for me. She proceeded to perform a 45° bank to the left. That was, frankly, quite scary. The ground was straight down out my window. I could feel the g force pulling at my body and especially my face. And when it was over I was dizzy for a couple seconds. That's going to take some getting used to. But it was also kind of fun.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

First Cancellation

In a nutshell, too windy to fly today. Cancelling flight. I am bummed. I did some yard work instead. Reading the METAR that said 20018G28 is one thing. Going outside and watching the trees blowing in gusts of 28 kts is another Once I saw that I got a better feel for what was going on. It's freakin windy out. What would that do to an airplane?

Well, with winds at 200 and our runway at 210 it would be more or less straight at us; and, this generally a very good thing. But it's the Gusting part that gets us. We approach at 65 kts. The wind is gusting over our wings at 28. Suddenly the gust stops at the winds are at 18. Instantaneously we're flying at 55 kts. Or not flying I should say as we're now stalled and we were 10 feet over the runway and there's no room or time to maneuver. So we make the ground comes up to meet us quite suddenly. The best outcome is a severely bent aircraft. And let's not talk about the worst. Let's just wait for a better day to fly.

We didn't fly today, but I learned about decision making which is very important in piloting.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lesson 5: Cumulonimubus! and Low Approaches

Flight #4. My first encounter with really interesting weather that threatened to cause us to scrub the mission. The METAR (current aviation weather report) read: 19006 6SM OVC035CB A2994.

Betsy provided the translation: "Winds out of 190 at 6 knots, visibility 6 statute miles, sky is overcast with the ceiling at 3,500 feet and there are Cuuuummmmoooolllloooo NIMmmmmbus clouds!" I wish I had a recording of her doing this. She pulled up current weather for several airports around and whenever she saw the CB notation she would put on her scary scary voice and eerily announce that there were Cumulonimbus clouds in the area. Apparently, this is a Bad Thing. The basis for thunderstorms, hail, lightning, wind shear, tornadoes, generally stuff that doesn't get along well with light aircraft (or any aircraft for that matter). They are to be avoided.

The METAR just an hour before read OVC045. Ceiling 1,000 feet higher and know scary thunderheads. She turned this into a lesson on thunderstorm formation. Here in NC throughout the summer we consistently have conditions primed for "pop-up thunderstorms". They're not associated with a weather front, they just spontaneously form, are short lived, but are very violent. They sound very annoying too. They're responsible for lots of last-minute flight cancellation. They're something we just have to deal with.

So can we fly or what Betsy? She laid out the ground rules: we can go up. We'll stay in the pattern. If we see lighting, a towering cloud, or one drop of rain on the windshield, we land immediately. I'm good with that. Off we go.

Well after all that scary talk I actually got to do something quite fun. I can actually pretty much state that this is the most fun thing I've ever done in my life: low approaches. And not just once, but we did this 5 times.

Betsy explained that we'd takeoff and then enter a standard landing pattern. We'd do everything except land. I'm good with that. I expected we'd turn onto final approach, descend down toward the runway, and when we were a few hundred feet above it we'd climb back to pattern altitude. Yeah. I was wrong.

What we actually did was way cooler. We turned onto final approach and she showed me how to aim at the numbers at the end of the runway. This felt weird as I had to push the nose down and "dive" toward the runway. Then she tells me, "You're doing great, now start to level off and I want you to enter straight and level flight about 10 feet above the runway." Ten? She means One hundred right? No, ten. Alrighty then...

I get above the numbers and level off at maybe 20 or 30 feet. She says reduce power til I'm at 10. Okidoke. Down we go to 10. There is a plane on a taxi way. I pass above him. I see the other pilot smiling at me. I note that he's wearing an Izod shirt. I think, I'm way too close to the ground, well we'll do a "go around" in a sec and we'll be off. Bzzz. Wrong again. I'm so bad at this predicting Betsy thing.

She then tells me to trim for level cruise at 65 kts and fly down the length of the runway at 10 feet. At this point I just go with the flow and enjoy the ride. This is something I've done only in video games before. Oddly it feels completely safe. For once, and despite the scary weather all around us, the air is dead calm and I find it easy to maintain altitude. Similar to my first flight. Smooth air makes everything much easier.

The runway is 6,500 feet long. So I fly along for about a mile at 10 feet and 75 mph. At this altitude I can really feel the speed. It's just like driving down the interstate. As the trees at the end of the field begin to loom we finally apply full power and climb back to 1,000 AGL. Then we do that again 4 more times. It never got old.

Finally, on the 6th approach we announced we would be making a full stop landing. I asked her how I would do that exactly, she said, "I'll talk you through it. Just do exactly what we just did 5 times in a row.. you did those fine." OK then...

I made another low approach and leveled off at 10 feet above the runway at 65 kts. She then told me to reduce power to idle. I knew that I couldn't maintain altitude (all 10 feet of it!) without power. She then repeatedly told me, "Do what you need to do to maintain 10 feet... don't let the plane descend..." so I pull back. We get slower and slower, at about 50 kts the plane starts dropping ever so slowly. We're over the landing threshold now at about 5 feet. Betsy keeps repeating "Don't land... don't land don't land... Do Not Land... C'mon don't let it descend.... don't land don't land... pull up... don't land." We're now about 2 feet above the runway, I feel like the plane is standing on its tail, the stall horn begins to wail, we're below 50 kts... this can't be right... and I feel the wheels touch the ground...

"Steer with your feet, don't land, don't land... keep the nose up". But the nose comes down despite my best efforts. Betsy says, "Congratulations, you just landed."

Wow! I landed an airplane. Yes I did. And now I know the secret. Think "don't land". And the plane pretty much lands itself. This is so cool!

Now, she also let me know that I'm doing things a little out of sequence. She said most students don't get to do low approaches and landing until they've practiced slow flight and done stalls and stall recovery. But here the bad weather caused us to change things around a little bit. She says, that's actually quite normal. Mixing things up that is. We have to work around the requirements of whatever weather we get thrown.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Maintenance Night

Another maintenance night. This time I worked on Warrior 8330S. I worked closely with another club member, Obdulio, who taught me how to refurbish the spark plugs on the engine. We removed the spark plugs, sand blasted them clean, anneal (heat with a torch and then cool in an oil bath) the washers, clean the threads on a grinding machine, then remeasure the spark gap and adjust as necessary, then replace them.

We spent a lot of time on this. I'm not sure I totally understand why this much attention is paid the the spark plugs. I know in my car I have to replace my spark plugs every 100,000 miles. We do this every 50 hours the engine runs on the planes. I've noticed in general though that these planes get much better maintenance than my car ever does. Maybe that's why we can fly planes manufactured in 1981 and they fly just as well as brand new planes. Can't say that of many cars from the same era.