Somewhere in the vast expanse of the Milky Way is a wormhole nestled within spacetime, and at some point in the last few months I think I must have inadvertently wandered through it. It seems like I just wrote my last flight training update a couple of weeks ago but in reality it was more like three months ago. It’s absolutely ridiculous how quickly time flies sometimes. Anyway, a lot has happened since my last entry, namely 9 flights and a solo! In the interest of time (and attention spans), I’m going to make one mega entry where I’ll say a little bit about each flight instead of writing a 10-volume compendium that describes each minute detail. I’ll do my best, although brevity isn’t exactly a weapon in my limited arsenal. If this gets too long I’ll probably just break it up into a couple (or few) posts.
First up…Lesson 8: Steep turns, power-on stalls, power-off stalls, slow flight, emergency procedures, S-turns across a road, turn about a point
Flight Hours: 1.3
Hours to Date: 8.6
October 19, 2011
This flight was dedicated to practicing some of the basic maneuvers that it takes to become an ace Cessna fighter pilot, or as any sane person would call them, ground reference maneuvers.
The goals of these maneuvers are to a) learn how to compensate for wind drift while maintaining precise control of the airplane, b) fly a nice and controlled flight path, and c) hone the skills of perception and fly with an enhanced sense of kinesthesia.
Wind drift – I’ve mentioned before that it only takes a stiff breeze to throw the 2,500 lb. Cessna 172 off course. If you’re trying to fly to a remote, exotic destination, a little bit of uncorrected wind drift can end up blowing you miles off course if you’re not paying attention and instead of ending up at a white sand beach, you could end up drifting to a barren, rocky desert. I’m not saying that executing poor ground reference maneuvers will necessarily land you in the desert, but it could cause an FAA examiner’s red pen to move at warp speed, leaving a budding student pilot without their coveted private pilot certificate.
Ground reference maneuvers – These involve picking a point on the ground and flying a nice tight pattern (circle or S-pattern) over and/or around it. Probably the most important thing to remember is that, depending upon the strength of the wind, you’ll have to vary the intensity of the turn to compensate. For example, if you’re flying in a circle around a point on the ground and the wind is at your back, you’ll need to steepen your bank or else the wind will blow you further away from the reference point than you’d like to be. On the other side of the pattern when you’re flying into a headwind, you’ll need to shallow up the turn. Turn too sharply into a head wind and it’ll quickly push you closer to the reference point than you should be and your circle will end up looking like a ball of play-doh you threw up against the wall; round on one end and flat on the other.
Steep turns – I love these because it’s a chance to feel a bit of G-force. Granted I’m not pulling the 9-G minimum radius turn of an F-15E, but I am getting about 1.5 – 2 G’s which is enough to make your cheeks feel like they’re starting to sag. The key to these turns is to maintain coordinated control of the ailerons (wing bank), rudder (yaw), elevators, and throttle. If you just throw the plane into a 60-degree bank and pull back suddenly with no rudder input, you’ll end up skidding the plane, you’ll lose altitude, and you can potentially over-speed and over-stress the airframe. Since this is a maneuver where you need your eyes outside of the plane rather than on the instrument panel, you have to rely on kinesthesia and audio clues to get you through the maneuver. By developing a good, kinesthetic feel for the airplane, you’ll be able to feel your body shifting to the left or right in the seat if it’s an uncoordinated turn (improper / inadequate rudder usage) and you’ll be clued in that you need to add that rudder to correct the turn. Using audio clues, you may hear the engine sound like it’s speeding up and you’ll likely hear the wind noise get a bit louder. These are clues that you’re losing altitude and gaining speed. To correct this, you’ll need to pull back on the throttle, decrease the degree of bank, and stop your descent. You’ll know if you execute a good 360-degree steep turn because you’ll get freaked out (at least I did the first time) as you hit the wake turbulence generated by your own plane after closing the circle. The first time you hit this wake turbulence you may think that you’ve just hit a bird or something because you’ll get a pretty intense but short-lived buffeting sensation and maybe a loud “thump” sound. The freaked out feeling quickly gives way to a well-deserved pat on the back for completing a level-altitude steep turn!
Engine failure – It’s a rare occurrence for an engine to quit mid-flight, but it can happen so a good pilot will need to be able to manage the situation without even having to think about it. A good mnemonic to remember is ALARMS, where A stands for “airspeed” (best glide speed), L stands for landing spot (look for long, flat, obstruction-free stretch of land or road to put your ailing plane down on, A is for “air restart” (check fuel cut-off, make sure you’re on both fuel tanks, turn on the auxiliary fuel pump, try to restart the plane), R is for “radios” (tune the radio to 121.5 and turn the transponder to the emergency squawk code 7700), M is for “mayday” (make a radio call detailing your situation and where you are), and S is for “secure airplane” (unlock doors, belts fastened, nothing loose around the cockpit that could smack you or your passengers in the head in a rough landing). This is probably one of the most important contingencies to plan for so it’s well worth the time to practice outside of the plane. I try to practice this by sitting in a chair at home with my eyes closed while running through the procedures in my mind and physically miming the control procedures and switch flipping with my hands.
Flight Lesson #9 – Takeoffs/landings, low pass, no flap
Flight Hours: 1.1
Hours to Date: 9.7
October 21, 2011
As time goes on, I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable with landing procedures, especially with staying loose on final approach. I’m realizing that staying loose is definitely the key to a good landing. I’m continuing to learn that you don’t want to make sudden control inputs to try and correct for every little bump on the way down. Doing this only makes the landing that much more uncomfortable both for myself and for my passenger(s).
We shoot a few landings in a full flap-landing configuration and then we do a couple with no flaps. The biggest difference between full flaps and no flaps is the angle of descent to land. A full flap configuration increases the surface area of your wings allowing you to descend more steeply without gaining airspeed. No flaps, however, means that you have to flatten your approach significantly, i.e., your descent in terms of feet of altitude lost per minute will be decreased relative to a full flap approach. If you try to bring the plane down on the same steep glide path with no flaps as you would with full flaps, your airspeed will pick up pretty quickly and you’ll be more likely to “float” the plane down the runway. Floating down the runway basically means you’re caught in ground effect (the aerodynamic phenomenon where a cushion of air extends upwards at an altitude roughly equivalent to the wingspan of your plane). Try to nose down to escape ground effect and you could, a) touch down too hard and damage your landing gear, or, b) you can put it down nose first on the relatively flimsy nose wheel which could cause it to collapse, the end result being a nice new canyon being carved into the center of the runway by your prop. Both outcomes will leave quite a few people pretty unhappy to say the least. On the other hand, if you try to ride that “float” out, you can find yourself quickly running out of runway meaning you’ll need to do the safest thing by aborting the landing and then go around again. So for a no-flap landing, just be remember that you’re going to be coming in a lot flatter than normal so keep your hand on the throttle and make minute adjustments to maintain a trajectory for landing.
Flight Lesson #10 – Uncontrolled field, barbeque
Flight Hours: 1
Hours to Date: 10.7
October 22, 2011
In terms of good food and awesome ambience, one of the best spots for barbeque in the Kansas City area is a place called We Be Smokin’. It’s situated in a vast expanse of farmland about 30 miles to the south of Johnson County Executive Airport at the small, uncontrolled Miami County airport in Paola, KS. It’s nestled at the end of runway 21 and the cool part is that you’re actually able to taxi your plane up to the front door, tie down, and run inside to devour some amazing barbeque. Walking through the door, you’ll immediately notice an eclectic collection of aviation photography with literally hundreds of pictures of planes ranging from A-10s to Yaks. They’re there to admire while you eat as long as you’re not too busy checking out the other air traffic coming in for lunch.
It’s Saturday at 1100 so Austin and I decide that this would be a great day to fly towards Miami County to practice flying into an uncontrolled field and landing on a relatively short and narrow runway, and hey, if we end up getting some good food out of the deal it’ll be all the better. The flight there goes pretty well as Austin coaches me on the proper procedures for entering the traffic pattern at an airport without a tower. Somewhere around 10-miles out from the airport I have to start making announcements to the other pilots by stating who I’m talking to (Miami County traffic), the plane I’m in (Cessna -227TW), where I’m at (10 miles to the north of the airport), what I’m doing (inbound for landing), and again who I’m talking to. It’s very important to announce which airport’s traffic you’re talking to at the beginning and the end of the transmission in the event that a pilot missed the first or last part of the call. When using the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF), you’ll hear radio calls from all uncontrolled fields in the area and the chatter can get relatively dense. So in the spirit of collision avoidance, the safest practice is to make that announcement twice. Luckily for me, there is virtually no traffic in the area other than the plane landing a couple of miles ahead of me. I wait for the pilot to land and then back-taxi down the runway to parking before I make the turn to base and final. The landing goes smoothly and as a reward, Austin and I park next to an Air Tractor (very cool) and we head into We Be Smokin’ for some stellar barbeque. We finish up, adjust our weight and balance calculations because of all the meat we just took down, and head back out for some post-lunch maneuvers. Barbeque and flying, two things that make for a great Saturday afternoon! Now if I could only find a way to race a car, skydive, fly a Mustang, AND eat barbeque all in the same day…
Next up…Navigating with VOR, progress checks, and landing with engine failure / partial power loss.