October 5, 2011
Flight hours: 1
Total hours to date: 4.9
Had a nice 1-hour flight today, well, nice once I got off the ground that is. I practiced a forward slip, engine failures, and landing setup. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll be blatantly honest and say that I felt like a complete fool right before my pre-flight and I learned another important lesson as a result…ALWAYS CHECK YOUR TAIL NUMBER.
Up until this point, the airplane I’ve flown in has always been tied down in the same spot on the ramp, and walking in to the flight school I glance over and notice my -172 sitting right where it should be in slot #2. I head to the front desk, grab the keys and folder for 5258Y, check the squawk sheet and head out to the plane. As I’m walking across the ramp, I’ve got my head down as I remove the plane keys from the folder. Head still down, I walk to the plane, duck under the wing, open the door, and start to document the times listed on the tach and the Hobbs meter. That’s weird, the numbers don’t match up at all. I start to back out of the plane to double check the tail number when I hear “Uh, are you sure you’ve got the right plane?”. Crap. I pull my head out of the plane and standing behind me is another flight instructor with his student in tow. Sure enough, I’m starting to do pre-flight on 1053X and not on 5258Y like I’m supposed to be doing. I mumbled something completely inaudible and unintelligible, ducked my head in shame, and then did a Charlie Brown shuffle over to the next plane in line…5258Y. Talk about feeling like an idiot and beginning the lesson with an inauspicious start. Even worse was the fact that the student pilot was a physician who completed his fellowship at Duke and I had been wanting to talk to him since that’s where I did my residency. Great introduction Hampton… Oh well, lesson learned. Always check your tail number! What was confusing to me, however, was the fact that my key opened the wrong plane’s door. Apparently some keys can be interchangeable which means I’ll need to exercise due diligence so I don’t succumb to the fallacy of “well, the key opened the door so it must be my plane”. I definitely don’t want to be “that guy” that takes the wrong plane and leaves another student pilot stranded on the ground. I don’t think that would make me a very popular guy around the flight school!
So with that misstep out of the way and after the requisite ribbing, Austin and I head out to the practice area to knock out some maneuvers. First up:
The forward slip is kind of a fun maneuver that feels a little odd at first, primarily due to
the cross-control of ailerons and rudder required to execute the maneuver. Before I get into that, here’s a little on what a slip is and how it can be beneficial.
An intentional slip can be a useful maneuver to, a) help reduce altitude without increasing airspeed (just like using flaps), and b) maintaining a straight track when flying in a crosswind. The slip is a nice trick to pull from your bag if you’re coming in for landing on a runway where there are obstructions near the final approach portion of the landing pattern, if you’ve got to set the plane down in a hurry during an emergency (engine failure, forced landing, etc.), or in the event that you’ve got flap failure.
To properly execute a slip, you’ve got to dial up the perfect combination of forward movement and side movement so that you’re basically flying “sideways” but maintaining a straight track along the ground. When you fly sideways, you’re altering the way in which the wind strikes the plane and this results in a significant increase in drag. This increase in drag will decrease the ability for the airplane to climb, i.e., make it easier to descend. So how do you perform a slip? This is the fun part. To be done correctly, these control inputs should occur simultaneously, but I’ll talk about them sequentially and work under the assumption that we’re flying straight at the time, i.e., that we’re using the slip to lose a little altitude without gaining speed; something that would be helpful if I were too high when coming in to land and I didn’t have any flaps to work with.
1. Using the control yoke, lower one wing
2. Using your feet, apply opposite rudder in an amount that will keep you tracking straight over the ground
3. If further altitude loss is needed, you can dip your wing even more but you need to make sure that you add enough opposite rudder so that you keep moving straight.
Typically, the amount you can lower your wing is limited by the amount of rudder travel you have available. If you’ve got your left wing lowered at 10-degrees but you’ve got full right rudder already depressed, then you’ve hit your practical slip limit and you’re basically limited to that 10-degree bank. Any additional aileron input beyond this point will result in a turn in that direction of the raised aileron (turn the yoke or move the stick to the left, the left aileron raises and left wing lowers). That’s not good if you’re trying to maintain a straight track on a short final approach to land.
Today, I’ve got a pretty decent wind coming out of the west so Austin and I set up to practice slips to keep our track straight across the ground. I mentioned earlier that it’s a pretty cool yet weird feeling, and I don’t think that’s too much of an overstatement. We cruise along for a bit, flying directly along a road that we use as a guide to detect drift. It only takes a few seconds to realize that the road is drifting further and further to the right even though it feels like I’m flying straight. Time to try a slip! First, I kick in some right rudder and get a shifty feeling in my stomach as the tail of my plane jets out to the left and the nose moves to the right, into the wind. [I’ll stop here and prevent the loss of a man card by saying the shifty feeling I felt was a good, roller-coaster-like feel, not an “aw man I need a sick bag” feel.] I simultaneously drop the left wing just a bit so that we maintain a straight track over the ground while maintaining my current altitude. I do this for a few seconds when all of a sudden, Austin leans over and pulls the throttle to idle and tells me that I’ve got an engine failure. Time to run through the emergency landing procedure and the mnemonic:
This mnemonic could be a life-saving one if there’s ever an engine failure so all student pilots need to get this committed to memory ASAP.
A – Airspeed
L – Landing Spot
A – Air restart
R – Radios
M – Mayday
S – Secure Aircraft
Airspeed – Since I theoretically don’t have an engine at this point, I’ll need to adjust my pitch to maintain a best glide speed of 65-kts. To help maintain this attitude, I’ll need to make liberal use of the trim wheel so I don’t have to fight with the yoke while I’m simultaneously trying to find a good landing spot. My attention should be focused more on the outside so I can find that perfect spot to set the Cessna down, bringing us to…
Landing Spot – The best place to land would obviously be on an actual runway, so the first thing I’ll do is hit a button on the GPS receiver to see where the closest landing spot is. One mile away? That would be perfect! Fifteen miles away? I’m probably not going to make that, especially if I’m flying at only 3,500 feet. So in the absence of a runway, I’ll be looking for a long stretch of road that’s free of power lines and telephone poles. If that’s not available, I’ll look for a nice open field and ideally one that’s not littered with farm equipment or other obstacles. If for some reason that’s not available I’ll start looking for other options like football fields, unpopulated parks, or any other flat stretch of land that’s sitting out there beckoning for a shiny Cessna 172 to perch upon.
Air restart – If I ever have a real engine failure in flight, there’s a chance I could get the engine restarted before having to undergo a forced landing so I’ll run through a quick flow check to try and bring that Lycoming engine back to life. First, I’ll make sure the fuel shutoff valve is pushed all the way in. Next, I make sure the fuel selector valve is set to “both” so that fuel is being pulled from both tanks. Then I’ll try the auxiliary fuel pump in the event the engine-driven fuel pump has failed. Finally, before I turn the key to restart the engine, I’ll make sure the fuel mixture is set to “rich”. At this point, if the propeller is windmilling, the engine should start on its own. If the prop isn’t spinning then I’ll turn the ignition to try and get it going again. If it doesn’t start, then it’s time to commit to landing.
Radios – I’ll change my radio frequency to 121.5 and set the transponder to squawk 7700, the emergency frequency.
Mayday – After switching to 121.5 and squawk 7700, I’ll call out my position and intentions so that ATC is aware of the problem and help can be dispatched.
Secure Aircraft – I’ll need to make sure that seats are in the upright position, seat belts securely fastened, and tray tables up. Quickly turn around (or have the passengers turn around) to make sure there isn’t anything heavy floating around in the back seat that could smack us in the back of the head during landing. Then I’ll make sure the fuel lines are cut off so that I don’t inadvertently set off a fireworks display when setting the plane down. Once I’m sure I’ve got a landing site squared away and landing is imminent, I’ll shut down all of the electrical equipment to reduce the risk of an electrical fire upon touchdown.
We finish this maneuver, but I feel like I’ll need to practice it a bit more because it’s really hard to get a feeling of a true emergency when I know that I’m not actually going to complete the procedure, i.e., force a landing, during practice maneuvers. The sense of urgency that would be present during an actual emergency is hard to recreate in a controlled environment so I’ll have to coach myself to think it’s truly life or death during subsequent practice sessions.
[Since I’m already nearing 4-pages of long-windedness, I’ll just say that we returned to the airport to work on landing set up. The next lesson will focus heavily on landings so I’ll wait until then to talk more about how to actually get set up for this as well as how to fly in the airport’s traffic pattern.]
Back at the airport, Austin signs off on my log book and I’m now up to 4.9 hours of flight time. It’s not a lot, but it’s putting me closer and closer to my goal of getting my private certificate and ultimately my P-51! (Assuming Hypersonic Supplements takes off that is…:) )
Next up: Landings at the KC Downtown airport in a busy traffic pattern and an offset runway.