Stalls and landings – Flight Lessons 18, 19, and 20

Check your six, here comes a rapid-fire barrage of flight updates!  I should mention here that I’m slightly out of order.  I’ve been working on whipping up an entry for Lesson #17 on my first cross-country flight, but I need to finish writing the dang thing.  I’ve gotten a little carried away on going through the steps of preparing for the flight and I think I may need to pare it down a little bit.  Until then, here are lessons 18, 19, and 20.

Flight lesson #18 – Stalls and landings

Flight hours: 0.6

Hours to date: 22.2

February 2, 2012

I’m now up to 22 hours and am roughly halfway to the minimum required flight hours to get my private certificate!  Austin and I spent the majority of this lesson working on:

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A landing is basically a controlled stall

Power-off stalls – When you come in for a landing, your flaps are generally in the fully deflected position, the power is at a very low setting, and your airspeed is relatively slow (in a Cessna 172 at least).  If you get too slow on final approach there’s the very real possibility that the plane could lose lift, stall, and you would get a rude introduction to the ground.  Power-off stalls are practiced to simulate this situation, leaving you ready to roll if it ever happens for real.  To set up for the maneuver pull the power to idle, lower the flaps, and apply backpressure (elevevator in “up” position) in order to maintain altitude.  As the airspeed bleeds off, the plane shudders and lurches and the wings are now stalled.  Add full power, try to minimize any altitude loss, and then slowly bring the flaps up one notch at a time.  It’s important not to bring all of the flaps up at once, especially when the airspeed is still low, since doing that will cause a precipitous decrease in lift generated by the wings (less surface area at lower speeds equals less lift).  If this was a real stall on approach, and if a pilot were to add full power and bring up the flaps right away, the likelihood is high that the loss in lift would turn the plane into a glorified Newton’s apple.

Power-on stalls – These are pretty fun to do and they’re meant to simulate a stall on takeoff.  If you were to pitch the airplane up too steeply after you leave the ground, your airspeed would quickly bleed off and you would stall.  Again, airplane; meet ground.  Obviously, this maneuver isn’t done in a “real world” setting on takeoff, but rather is performed with enough space between you and the ground that you can recover at an altitude of no lower than 1,500 feet AGL.  To execute this stall, set up in a takeoff configuration (no flaps, airspeed roughly 55-kts).  Once stabilized pitch up, add full power making sure to add enough right rudder to counter the engine torque that’s wanting to pull the plane to the left, and keep pulling back until airspeed dissipates and a stall occurs.  To recover, just release the backpressure on the yoke and make sure to use that rudder, otherwise a spin can quickly occur.  The goal, again, is to regain airspeed without losing altitude.

We do each of these maneuvers a few times and then head back to base to work on some landings before Austin turns me loose for some solo flight!

Flight lesson #19 – Solo flight – Stalls, steep turns, slow flight, pilotage

Flight hours: 0.8

Hours to date: 23

February 2, 2012

Even though this flight happened immediately after my stall practice flight, I’m calling this flight lesson #19 since it’s in a separate line in my logbook, just in case you were wondering…

Luckily, the conditions are favorable so I won’t have to deal with any of those danged crosswinds for what’s to be my second solo flight.  I’m feeling pretty good after the first half of the day and am feeling pretty brave (yet safe…) so I decide to head out to the practice area for some more maneuvers.  I focus on steep turns since those have been my bane so far in that I always seem to lose altitude by the time I finish.  This time, however, I finish them with zero altitude loss!  I get a pretty big surprise when I finish off the turn though, as I hear a thump and my airplane buffets wildly for a couple of seconds.  At first, I thought I had hit a bird or something so I check the wings.  Nope, they still look good and I don’t see any feathers anywhere.  Then I feel a wave of relief as I remember something I read earlier in the week.  If you’ve done a good steep turn and you end up at the same altitude and on the same heading as where you started, you’ll run into your own wake turbulence.  Sweet!  The split second of sheer terror was actually a sign that I did something well!  Okay, it wasn’t sheer terror; it was more like a transient feeling of confused surprise.

After a couple more steep turns and a little slow flight, I decide to try out my pilotage skills by finding and flying over my parents’ house since they only live about 15 miles away from the airport.  Pilotage is basically navigating to a point through the use of visual markers on the ground and no extra help from GPS or VOR.  I know that my parents live southeast of the airport and about 10 miles off of a major highway, so I turn to a heading of 225-degrees (SW) and start looking for the highway.  I follow that for a while and quickly realize that all of the highway exits look roughly the same from above, so I’m not going to be able to rely on those to tell me when to change my heading.  I know that they live relatively close to the train tracks out in the country and there is a concrete mixing facility about halfway between their house and the highway, so I can just I fly along until I see a bunch of concrete mixers in a parking lot.  It takes about 5 minutesknowing where I am now, I make the appropriate turn and fly right over their house.  [I called my Mom a little later and she told me that she saw an airplane circling the house and she had a feeling it was me].  Mission accomplished!

I’ve only got the plane for another 20 minutes at this point so I figure it’s time to break off and return to base.  It was my first time flying solo away from the airport and it was definitely a fun experience!  Can’t wait till I get to do it again!

Flight lesson #20 – Flight maneuver practice, short/soft field takeoffs and landings

Flight hours: 1.2

Hours to date: 24.2

February 12, 2012

Occasionally, pilots will need to take off or land on non-paved (soft) runways or on runways that are short or have an obstacle somewhere near the end (something like a row of trees).  To prepare for these scenarios, Austin and I are going to work on soft/short field takeoffs and landings today.

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The Rhino – The Ultimate Plane for Short Field Landings

Soft field takeoff – Soft field runways are unpaved strips (usually grass) and they’re probably going to be pretty rough so the most important thing here is that a pilot doesn’t bury the nose gear in a hole or get stuck.  In order to avoid this, keep a lot of backpressure on the yoke to keep that nose gear nice and light and you need to make sure you don’t stop.  It should be a nice, smooth, brake-free transition from the taxiway to the active runway with backpressure being held the entire time.  Set the flaps at 10-degrees to allow for a slower rotation speed and then smoothly advance the throttle, and keep pulling back.  The nose wheel is going to pop off of the ground in no time, but you need to make sure that you don’t pull too hard so you don’t smack the tail on the ground.  Keeping that nice, nose-high attitude, slowly pull back until you’re able to lift off but just make sure that you don’t try to climb out suddenly.  Your rotation speed is going to be a lot slower here, and pitching up for a “normal” climb out could easily lead to a stall; something that should be avoided at all costs.  Anyway, after lift off it’s very important to gain airspeed and to do this, you’re going to have to do something that feels completely unnatural.  You’re going to have to push forward on the yoke to keep your plane in ground effect (the lift generating cushion of air that forms when you’re roughly one-wingspan above the ground).  Doing this will help you build that life-saving speed and you’ll be able to safely climb out.  This is a very, very fun type of takeoff but it just feels so counterintuitive to have to push forward to keep your plane low enough to keep from pitching up and stalling.

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A good example of an obstacle at the end of the runway

Short-field takeoff – This is the preferred method of departure when you’re faced with a short runway or when there is some sort of obstacle at the end.  The key points for here are to 1) make sure you taxi to the very edge of the runway landing threshold to ensure you’ve got every square foot available for lift off, 2) use 10-degrees of flaps to generate that extra lift, 3) hold the brakes and add 100% power, 4) release the brakes once your RPM has maxed, and 5) rotate at the usual speed but climb out at your best angle of climb [Vx] instead of the best rate of climb [Vy].  This will ensure you gain the most altitude in the shortest distance and will help you to clear that obstacle.

Short-field landing – This type of landing is for those times where, again, you’re faced with either a short runway or an obstacle towards the front end of the runway.  The biggest difference between this and a standard landing is that your approach is going to be a bit steeper (to avoid the obstacle), you’re going to want to hit right on a specified spot towards the beginning of the runway in order to allow maximum room for the rollout, and you’re going to apply brakes a little more quickly and aggressively than you would for a standard landing.

Working under Austin’s guidance, I’m able to each of these a few times today.  I felt pretty comfortable with the takeoffs, but the short field landing requires a little more skill than a “standard” landing since you’ve got to hit the exact point you’re aiming for.  This means no landing short, no landing long, no “floating” the plane along the runway, you can’t land too fast, and you can’t land too slowly.  You’ve just got to be perfect, which unfortunately I am not.  With a little more practice though, I should start to get a little better at this.

Coming soon… A little nighttime landing practice in downtown Kansas City, a thoroughly tiring session of landing practice in gusting 30 mph winds, and some more solo time.