Third Lesson: September 22, 2011

Flight Lesson 3
September 22, 2011

Flight Hours: 0.9
Hours to date: 2.8

Back from vacation, time to hit it hard!

Laurel Hill State Park - Pennsylvania

Wow, it’s hard to believe my last lesson was 2 entire weeks ago and it’s even harder to believe that aviation can gain such a firm hold on you in such a short time.  I’ve wanted to fly for what seems like forever and I’ve had to wait 33 long years to get to this point, but after only 2 relatively short lessons and 1.9 hours of flight time aviation has a grip on me that’s tighter than I thought was possible.  So tight, in fact, that I’m not sure how I survived to this point without flying on a regular basis!  There’s absolutely nothing like slipping into the left-hand seat, running through your pre-flight systems checks, turning the key and listening to the sweet sound of that engine roaring to life.  I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel (and sound) like to one day do that in my own Merlin-powered P-51 painted in the same colors of the fighter squadron that my Grandpa served in during WWII – The 78th fighter group, 82nd fighter squadron.  (I will earn one, I will earn one, I will earn one.  Just have to keep telling myself that and keep working hard to hit that goal…).  Anyway, on to the lesson.  Today we’re going to do power-on stalls, cover the HELL check, and work on spin recovery.

Austin and I sit down for our now standard pre-flight briefing to cover the maneuvers and then I’m off to take care of the pre-flight.  Walking across the ramp towards the plane, my steps seem to echo the sounds of “check…the…oil.  check…the…oil.  check…the…oil”, and I listen to them because I don’t want to feel like an idiot again.  Preflight (thankfully) goes off without a hitch and we taxi out to the runway, positioning the plane on the runway’s centerline for takeoff.  I close my eyes for a split second to visualize the takeoff run and think ahead to the different control inputs I’ll have to execute to maintain a nice, smooth climb out.  Eyes open.  Throttle to 100%.  Speed building.  Slowly add more right rudder.  55 knots.  Nose wheel up.  65 knots.  Main wheels up.  Little more right rudder.  Maintain steady pressure on the control yoke.  74 knots.  Climb to 1,600 feet and make a right turn towards the practice area.  This takeoff actually went pretty smoothly without too many deviations from our ideal rate of climb.  Now it’s time to practice some maneuvers.

HELL check
This is something we’ll do before every maneuver and it’s designed to keep us out of a certain place of the same name.  Just like in medicine, aviation utilizes a lot of acronyms to help streamline the pilot’s thought process while executing maneuvers, preparing for takeoff and landing, or dealing with emergencies.  This particular acronym is going to help make sure our airspace is clear, we’ve got the altitude we need to safely execute a maneuver, that our systems look good, and that we’ve got a potential spot to land in case of emergency.  In this case, HELL stands for:

H – Height (Do we have the altitude we need to maneuver?)
E – Engine (Is the engine running smoothly?  All gauges in the green?)
L – Location (Do we have a location to land if needed?  Runway?  Road?  Field?)
L – Look out (Look for other aircraft in the area)

After mentally putting a checkmark next to each step, we’ll execute a clearing turn in the form of either one 180-degree turn or two 90-degree turns to the right and left.  The purpose of this is to a) increase the visible profile of our airplane to make it easier for other aircraft in the area to see (and alert them to stay clear), and b) to make sure we’ve  looked a full 360-degrees for other traffic in the area.  The last thing you want to do is have a midair collision with another airplane because you didn’t do your due diligence in making sure your “box” was clear.

So HELL check complete, Austin takes the controls to demonstrate a power-on stall.  This maneuver is designed to simulate a stall that could happen on takeoff, a dangerous scenario that could be potentially disastrous if not properly dealt with.  Just as a little background, a stall is something that happens when airflow over the wings is disrupted and they stop producing lift.  If you’re not producing lift then the counter force of weight takes over and you sink, so it’s not a stretch to say this is less than ideal to have happen as soon as you takeoff.  The way to recover from a stall is to get your airplane positioned so that airflow over the wings is restored and you start producing lift again.

Power-on Stall
Following Austin’s demonstration it’s my turn to try the power-on stall.  First thing I need to do is reduce our speed to 74-knots, i.e., our takeoff speed.  I need to maintain a constant altitude when doing this so it’s going to be an exercise in throttle control, pitch control, and trim control.  Reduce the power to 1,500 RPM and the nose wants to drop due to the decrease in thrust so I’ve got to pull back a bit on the yoke to compensate.  As we slow down, more and more back pressure is required so I adjust the trim to reduce that pressure and make the plane more neutral.  Got it, 74-knots.  Now I move the throttle to 100%, pitch up at 20 degrees, and hold in some right rudder to compensate for the extra torque that’s wanting to yaw the plane to the left.  Slowly, the speed bleeds off and I have to keep adding more back pressure to the control yoke until we reach our stall speed of 47-knots.  The plane starts to shudder and the stall horn blares.  Air has officially stopped flowing over the wings (at least enough to generate lift) and we’re now in a stall.  The way to recover from this point is to release the back pressure on the yoke and allow the nose to dip slightly.  This will restore airflow over the wings and allow the airspeed to increase once again.  I do this, but rather than immediately recover from the stall and resume straight and level flight, we move directly into the next maneuver…

Spin Recovery
At the point in which the plane stalls, forward speed is basically reduced to nothing which means that the combination of torque P-factor are really trying to kick the plane to the left.  Now I’ll preface this by admitting that Austin told me I’d need to keep a good amount of right rudder in to make sure that we didn’t spin off to the left, but wow…I didn’t realize we’d need that much.  At the peak of the stall I apply a little more right rudder and try to drop the nose, but I didn’t have nearly the amount of rudder that we actually needed.  So instead of resuming a nice straight and level flight path, my plane’s nose dives to the left and we’re in a very minor “spin”.  The easiest way to correct this is to add a bunch of right rudder (i.e., add counter-rudder) to halt the spin to the left and then lower the nose slightly as the spin terminates in order to pick up some forward airspeed once again.
I set up for a power-on stall once again and this time it goes smoothly since I’d just taken that mental note of how much right rudder I’d have to put into it.

We’ve been in the air for close to an hour at this point so we turn to the north and make our way back to Johnson County Executive Airport and park the plane at Air Associates once again to finish off the lesson.

I’m not going to go into the landing here because I’ll have a lot more on those in the next couple of posts.  In these early lessons I’m guiding us in on final approach, but I can feel a decent amount of control input from Austin during the actual touchdown phase.  This is actually fine by me because the landings are pretty tricky, especially during the early stages of flight training.  Learning the right “feel” for landing means the brain essentially has to develop new neural pathways as it teaches itself to subconsciously execute the movements involved with the landing process and, unfortunately, this process doesn’t exactly happen at hypersonic speeds.  On the plus side, I’ll get plenty of practice in upcoming lessons…

Coming up next: Ground reference maneuvers, traffic patterns, landing

My little wingman playing with sand on vacation



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