Flight Lesson #11 – Uncontrolled fields, hoodwork, VOR tracking, Triangulation
Flight Hours: 2.1
Hours to Date: 12.8
October 23, 2011
This was my introduction to instrument flight. We flew to two different uncontrolled fields and I was effectively blindfolded the entire time. Immediately after we went wheels up from Johnson County Executive, Austin had me put on a pair of blinders so all I could see were my instruments. To get to our destination I had to rely on the attitude indicator (artificial horizon), the vertical speed indicator, the heading indicator, and probably most importantly, the VOR (VHF omnidirectional range). The VOR indicator is almost like a rudimentary GPS but instead of seeing a nicely laid out map with your flight plan and waypoints highlighted, all you see is a single bar that shifts to the left or right to let you know if you’re on course to reach the destination’s VOR station. Programming your course is simple
enough; all you do is tune your receiver to the destination airport’s VOR signal and cross check it with the station’s specific morse code signal. Doing this will cause the VOR indicator bar to shift and it will help guide you towards your destination. If the bar is perfectly vertical then you’re on course. If it shifts to the left then you need to adjust your heading to the left. If it shifts to the right, you need to adjust your heading to the right. You can think of the center of the gauge as being you and the bar represents a highway, er, skyway. If it shifts to the right, it’s basically like you’re flying in a sky-ditch on the left side of the skyway so you’d better turn to the right to get back on the road. It’s a great system to have on board especially in the event that your modern GPS unit fails (or you’re a student pilot and your instructor turns the GPS off).
Prior to making this flight, I got a little practice in on Flight Simulator to try and get the feel for how the VOR would respond. I’m really glad I did because I think it made my real-life flight go a lot smoother. It was a weird feeling being blinded and it didn’t really feel like I was flying since I couldn’t see outside, but the experience was definitely a good one.
Flight Lesson #12 – Landings, slow flight, power-on and off stalls, steep turns
Flight Hours: 1.3
Hours to Date: 14.1
November 10, 2011
I was able to get a bit more practice with the basic maneuvers I’ll have to execute during my check ride. I realize, however, that I’ll have to get a bit more practice in the steep turn department. On both of my attempts I lost a bit of altitude and had to flatten the bank in order to halt the altitude loss, but it was still a fun and educational flight. On a positive note, landings are starting to seem a bit more natural and I’m getting much more comfortable with bringing the plane down on a stable glide path and touching down on the centerline. As the stick-throttle interconnect becomes a more finely tuned machine I should be able to set us down with barely a tire squeak…at least I hope.
Flight Lesson #13 – Progress check, backwards flight
Flight Hours: 1.1
Hours to Date: 15.2
November 18, 2011
At various points throughout flight training, the student pilot will go up with a different instructor who will conduct a progress check. This morning marks my first progress check and I’ll be flying with Matt Miller, a fantastic pilot with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
In medicine, no two practitioners are exactly alike. One will approach the diagnosis of an unresponsive patient with a mystery illness in one way, and another will try to tackle the problem in a totally different manner and neither approach is necessarily wrong. As residents rotate to work under a new attending, he/she will have to be aware of that specific practitioner’s thought process and approach to treatment in order to streamline therapy and treat the patient in the most efficient way. The same is true for flight instructors; one may preflight the airplane in one way and another may tackle the same task in a completely different way. One may contact ground control for clearance to taxi before leaving the ramp tie-down area and another may taxi to the edge of the taxiway contacting ground. Again, neither approach is wrong but as a student pilot, I still want to do things according to how the individual instructor likes them to be done if for no other reason than to make that instructor feel comfortable flying with me. When flying, it all comes down to giving your passengers the most comfortable, stress-free flight possible because ideally you’d like your friends and family to fly with you more than one time.
I was a little bit nervous for the flight today because, a) I’m flying with a different instructor, and b) the winds are pretty substantial at 10-knots gusting to 20-knots. This does absolutely nothing to make the flight any easier.
Takeoff goes smoothly and I start climbing to my cruise altitude as we head towards the practice area to work through some maneuvers. After what seems like about 3 or 4 minutes, Matt asks me how far I think we are from the airport. I tell him that I feel like we should be at least 4-5 miles out and he tells me to look back. What the??? The end of the runway looked like it was only about 0.5 miles behind us! Turns out flying head on into some pretty stiff winds will really impede the forward progress of a Cessna 172!
We [slowly] continue our flight towards the practice area when Matt tells me that he wants to show me something cool and I comply by passing the controls to him. He tells me to look out the window, pick a point on the ground and watch that point in relation to the left main gear. At first glance it looks like we’re barely moving and a cursory check to the GPS to check our ground speed confirms that fact. We’re moving at a blazingly fast 8-knots over the ground. Matt alters our heading by a few degrees and reduces the throttle, leading to something that I never thought I’d experience in a fixed-wing plane…we start flying backwards! The wind gusts were so strong that it overpowered the reduced power setting of the Lycoming engine and we actually flew in reverse. The GPS said our ground speed was around 10-knots at this point, except it was 10-knots in the wrong direction! Talk about an unbelievably weird feeling. That feeling gets even weirder when Matt puts us in a left hand bank and we quickly reverse direction. I don’t know if you’ve ever done a J-turn in a car, but that’s exactly what it felt like (a J-turn is when you floor it while in reverse and then quickly cut the wheel to the right or left. The end result is that your car basically pivots on the rear wheels and voila, instant 180. Backwards flight and a J-turn in an airplane? That’s one item checked off of the bucket list!
Flight Lesson #14 – Low pass, partial power loss, no-flap landings
Flight Hours 1.3
Hours to Date: 16.5
December 9, 2011
This flight will probably go down as one of the most fun I’ve had to date. Austin and I worked on landings for the duration of the lesson, but as a “fun” twist we added in engine failures at various points in the pattern.
Engine failure immediately on takeoff – Definitely one of the most dangerous times to lose an engine… Thankfully we didn’t have to practice this one because the only thing you can do (or the only thing you should do) is try to land the plane directly ahead, meaning you’ll have to put it down in a field on or a street. If you lose an engine on takeoff and try to quickly circle back to the runway, the outcome will likely not be a good one due to the relatively rapid loss of altitude you’ll experience due to a complete lack of power.
Engine failure on takeoff at pattern altitude – This one we did try. Before getting clearance to takeoff, Austin called the tower to get permission to do a simulated engine failure shortly after takeoff so I could experience the potential difficulties in getting back safely. With clearance granted, I moved out to the centerline of runway 36 and applied full power. We went wheels up at around 60-knots and I began my departure climb to reenter the traffic pattern. At around 1,000 feet above the ground, Austin pulls the power and instructs me to try and get it back to the runway and to only reapply power if absolutely necessary to land safely. I started us in a slight right bank and then reversed course to the left in order to fly a teardrop shaped pattern in order to return to runway 18 (the opposite end of runway 36).
Doing this presented a couple of problems, the first of which was that I had to be extremely careful to fly a very tight pattern so I don’t drop below the glide path and get too low to land safely. The second problem is that I was now landing with the wind at my back, increasing the likelihood of floating down the runway increasing my effective braking distance.
I flew the teardrop pattern decently well, although I probably flew it a bit wider than would otherwise be ideal, but I still made it back to the runway safely and landed okay. I definitely felt the wind at my back though as I had to use a decent amount of runway to safely slow down before exiting onto the taxiway.
Partial power loss in the pattern – This one was definitely my favorite. As I made the turn from the departure leg to the crosswind leg of the traffic pattern, Austin reached over and pulled the power to almost idle and then told me that I was experiencing a partial power loss. I had to assume that I could lose the engine at any point so I had to get back to the runway ASAP. Rather than flying another teardrop, I decided that I’d just fly a very tight traffic pattern and return to runway 36 once again. I was about 2/3 closer to the runway than the normal downwind leg takes me and then, rather than turning base to final at about ½ mile past the end of the runway, I turned almost parallel to the threshold. Doing this meant that I had to get lined up perfectly with the centerline and then safely set the plane down in a much more compressed time frame. A Cessna 172 is slightly different from an F-22 or an F-15, but I still felt a little like a fighter pilot flying an overhead break to land. Definitely fun! Even better, this landing was subjectively my best to date mainly, I think, because I didn’t have much time to think about the approach. Instead of obsessing about setting the ideal glide path and making slight adjustments, I just had to do it. It was a great feeling knowing that I was able to fall back on training and muscle memory to execute a smooth landing. The stick-throttle interconnect is starting to become more developed!
I think I’ll end the update here because it’s already getting way too long and I want to take a bit more time to talk about the next flight, a truly “Sierra Hotel” experience, my first solo!