Flight Lesson #4

Control yoke of my Cessna 172

September 28, 2011

Flight Hours: 1.1
Hours to date: 3.9

0800 on a Wednesday.  Air Associates of Kansas.  Kind of hoping for some wind today since the plan is to work on ground reference maneuvers and the windier it is, the more I’ll benefit.  But walking through the front doors of the flight school I look up at the windsock to see that it’s just hanging there motionless.  Absolutely no wind…  Oh well, at least flying the maneuvers in calm air will give me a bit extra practice and a better idea of how to fly the actual pattern.  Grab the keys, preflight N1053X, then Austin and I launch from runway 18 and head to the practice area for a relaxing morning flight.
On the docket today:  S-turns across a road, turns around a point, traffic patterns, and landing set-up.

S-Turns Over a Road
A Cessna 172 is a small plane and it’s very susceptible to the effects of wind….very susceptible.  Sometimes it feels like someone standing at the end of the runway blowing at my plane would knock me off course by about 10-feet.  So to say that a slight 5 to 10-knot wind can blow a pilot off course relatively easily is an understatement, especially if they’re not prepared to deal with the drift.  Making S-turns over a road is a maneuver that’ll help me compensate for wind drift while turning, I’ll learn to orient my flight path with references on the ground, follow an assigned path, arrive at pre-specified points on the flight path, and divert my attention so that I’m doing all of this at once.  Ideally, I’ll be using visual flight cues to maintain a constant altitude and airspeed instead of focusing on my gauges.  You really want to maintain vision outside of the cockpit so you can a) watch for traffic, and b) learn to develop a feel for visual and kinesthetic flight in the event your gauges ever quit working while in flight.  The only problem today is that there’s absolutely no wind.  On any other day I’d be ecstatic to be flying in such smooth air, but today I was really hoping to test my piloting skills in at least a stiff breeze.  That’s alright, I’ll save the turbulence for another flight.
This maneuver starts with me finding a nice, long, straight road that runs perpendicularly to the “wind” and I find a nice looking one running north-to-south.  The goal will be to fly directly across the road with my wings level on a heading of 270 (west) and then immediately start a 180-degree turn to the right.  I do a quick check of the altimeter and airspeed indicator (ASI) to get my baseline altitude and speed before entering into a 20-degree bank to start the turn.  Ideally, I’ll finish up on a heading of 090 (east) turn at a wings level attitude at the exact second that I cross the road again.  As soon as I get to this point, I start a 180-degree turn to the left and do the same thing, hoping to go wings level as soon as I hit the road again.  I finish these two turns, look down at my gauges and get pretty excited.  I finished off the maneuver at the exact altitude and speed as when I started!  Granted, this was a bit easier since I didn’t have any wind to contend with, but it was still gave me a feeling of accomplishment at having finished a relatively lengthy maneuver exactly the way I was supposed to.  I was able to use visual cues to help gauge my altitude, I used the sounds of the airplane to judge my airspeed, and I used kinesthesis and proprioception to judge whether we were “slipping”  or “skidding” in the plane.  [A slip is something that occurs if a pilot doesn’t use enough rudder during a turn.  When you enter a bank, you start by turning the yoke or moving the stick in the direction you want to turn.  As the turn begins, the wing lowers (the wing on the side in which you’re turning) and the raised aileron on that wing creates more drag than the opposite wing does (the raised wing).  This causes the airplane to want to yaw towards the direction of the raised wing (i.e., away from the turn).  To counter this, the you need to add coordinated rudder input in the same direction in which you’re turning.  Not enough rudder and the airplane skids or slips.  A skid leads to the feeling of being flung to the outside of the turn (kind of like when you take a high speed left-turn in a car and you have the feeling you’re moving towards the passenger door).  A slip is the feeling that you’re moving to the inside of the turn, like you’re falling out of your seat to the left in a left-hand turn.]
With the S-turn complete, I move on to:

Turns Around a Point
This maneuver will help me further develop the skills I learned while executing the S-Turn maneuver.  Using visual and physical references, I’ll pick a point on the ground and then try to fly a perfect circle around that point while maintaining airspeed and altitude.  To make sure I’m keeping that circle in order I’ll start my turn, dipping my wing so that the tip lines up visually with that point on the ground, in this case a water tower.  If my wingtip deviates from that point, I’ll know I’m off track and I’ll have to tighten or loosen the turn in order to get that wingtip lined back up again.  The entire time I’m in the turn, I have my eyes out the window and not on the gauges.  I have to rely on that engine sound to be my primary indicator if I’m gaining or losing altitude.  If I gain altitude, the RPM will drop a bit and the engine will get quieter.  If I lose altitude, my airspeed will increase, the RPM will increase, and the engine will get louder.
This maneuver is a bit tougher than the S-turns were since I have to keep a steady bank for a full circle instead of 2 half-circles separated by a significant control input.  At the end, it came out alright but I lost a couple hundred feet of altitude so it definitely could have been better.  It’s really amazing how quickly you can gain and lose altitude in an airplane.  Just a small deflection of the controls can shoot you up hundreds of feet before you know it.  You may not even realize you’re adding any control input at the time which can be very tricky, so finishing up the turn at 1,900 feet instead of 2,100 feet isn’t horrible, I guess…I’ll just have to try to tighten this up a bit because I think I may have to keep it within 50-100 feet of my original altitude when I ultimately take my check-ride with the inspector (I’ll have to look this up though…).

With ground reference maneuvers complete for the day, we change headings towards the New Century Airfield in Gardner, KS (roughly 10 miles to the southwest of Johnson County Executive) to practice some pattern work (flying in the airport flight pattern) and stop and goes (land, stop, then takeoff again).   Since we’re heading for a different airport, I have to change frequencies so I can get permission to land from the controller at New Century.  This means I have to grab the map of the airport that Austin fortuitously printed ahead of time and then find the frequencies I need to program in to the radio.  First, I need to dial up ASOS (Automated Surface Observing System) to get the latest weather and airport information.  Next, I dial in the tower frequency to let air traffic control who I am (Cessna 1053X), where I am (about 5-miles to the east), and what I want (to do stop and go).  The controller tells me that I’m cleared for a straight-in approach to runway 36 so I start getting prepped for landing.  When I’m about 2 miles out, the controller calls me to see if I’d mind changing things up a bit by entering into a left traffic pattern for runway 18.  No problem, just change my heading a bit and I enter into the downwind leg, turn base, then final and try to hold a nice steady glide path down to the surface of the runway.  The winds aren’t bad so that’s a plus, but even in this nice still air the plane starts buffeting around as we get closer to the ground.  I feel the need to try and correct for every bump and jolt, but all this does is make the ride even rougher and the approach more difficult.  I’m going to need to learn to just keep a firm but loose hand on the controls and resist the urge to overcompensate if I want to make these landings smooth…
I ease the Cessna in but it wants to drift to the right at the last minute which to the uninitiated, which I am, can be a bit unnerving.  The only thing on my mind at this time is that I get it it set down on the runway, tracking straight.  If I come in at an angle, it’ll put a huge side-load on the landing gear which is definitely not good.  Austin lends me a hand, we set it down, and then roll to a stop about 1/3 of the way down the runway and I get set to takeoff once again.  Before I do this, I need to roll through a quick “flow check” that consists of checking the fuel selector.  Set to both – check.  Flaps – up.  Mixture – rich.  Instruments – set and within normal limits.  Ease the throttle all the way in to 100% and we’re off!
We do this a couple more times before heading back home to OJC for the debrief. It was a pretty fun flight, and I think I’m starting to get the hang of aerial multi-tasking, but I really need to get a feel for the landings…

Next up:  More landings

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