Sunday, September 07, 1997

The Red Baron (Non-Lesson Flight in Germany)

This was a surprise "bonus" flight during my business trip to Oberkochen, Germany, traveling with our German distributor's technical sales guy, Jörg. I saw low-flying Cessnas and other light planes from our hotel in Aalen-Waldhausen and found that there's a general aviation and gliding center at "Flugplatz Elchingen," about 15 minutes away. I had Jörg drive us over and found sightseeing flights for 40 DM a person (about $23 – he paid as I had no DM!). Jörg had never flown in a light plane (a French "Robin," low-wing 4 seat with great visibility), but he was a good sport and gave me the front seat.

The pilot was an even better sport – during a conversation in his broken English and our better French (and my non-German), I told him I was a 5 hour student pilot (BTW, I never would have guessed a few months ago that I'd be a "5 hour student pilot" this soon, so I should remember that this is cool and not be impatient if things take a little time). So he gave me the right seat and stick (after takeoff and initial climb out) and let me fly for about 20 minutes over the lovely German countryside! Very cool – we saw towns, a monastery, a quarry, the Zeiss factories in Oberkochen, etc. I mostly did shallow or moderate banks plus a bit of climbing and gliding (Jörg was a bit greenish in the back seat). I liked flying a stick – the plane was zippy (180 h.p.) and handled nicely, with great visibility from the big bubble windows (sliding canopy). I fancied myself the Red Baron in the clear blue skies over Germany, flying this bright red French "robin." I hope I can con Jörg into one more flight before I go back, maybe Friday, weather and time permitting (doubtful we would get the same cooperative pilot as Sunday – he was not supposed to let a passenger fly the plane on a sightseeing flight, obviously, so I really lucked out in that regard). It was supposed to be 20 minutes but I'm sure we ran long – we covered a lot of ground.

One thing that was notable was how comfortable and relaxed I felt on this fight – flying the plane in a very basic way, enjoying the scenery, turning to where the pilot pointed, it was quite easy. I was reasonably smooth and light-fingered on the stick (performing for Jörg, maybe, but not the "got to master this procedure" pressure I feel with Jason – I really need to work on this, as I think it's me more than Jason).

Time: 0.4 hours, not logged, non-lesson flight

Saturday, September 06, 1997

Lesson #3 - Partial Redemption

Partial "redemption" but still not a terrific flight. As I suspected from my sim experience, I am not exactly a natural when it comes to learning new eye/hand (and foot!) coordination skills. I still am holding the controls in a virtual death grip, leading Jason to demonstrate how well the C150 flies hands off (he thought it was bumpy air before this, but it was me overcontrolling!). I'm thinking "light touch," yadda-yadda-yadda, but the inner Bruce is holding on for dear life, it seems. Yet I don't really feel afraid, and overall this flight was more relaxed. I even spotted the airport while we were on the 45 degree pattern entry (I saw the power plant reference point from 7 miles – I still don't have good S.A. concerning my location, though I recognize major distant reference points and some local ones now).

We did more stalls – I still don't have smooth control and recovery, though watching the wingtip helps). We also reviewed slow flight, gliding and climbing turns, and we finally got to a ground reference maneuver – a rectangular course ½ mile from a runway-like mowed farm field. I did OK on this, and I flew the pattern as far as final. Jason also had some "fun" – going vertical in the C150 (not for long!), pitched up into a stall at probably 75-80 degrees – cool! Also when we had to get down to 1000' AGL for the rectangular course, he did some REALLY steep maneuvers as he spiraled down. Got a couple of plus G's on that, and a few moments of neggies. I love that stuff – borderline aerobatics that I thought were beyond the lowly C150 (of course it helps to be doing these things nose-low for that 1G assist.)

I'm typing this at Logan as I wait to board a Lufthansa flight for Frankfurt (1 week). No lessons this week, of course, but I hope I can squeeze in 2 lessons the week of 9/15 before another tough work schedule week. Jason says we will start to really work on landings next lesson too (his today was a bit "firm" – a high flare and he basically dropped it in – there was a bit of a crossswind too for runway 18).

Time: Dual 1.0 hrs, TT 5.1 hrs (C150 at 1B6)

Thursday, September 04, 1997

Lesson #2 - Not So Hot

This was NOT the greatest flight. Switching airplanes again was part of it, as was waiting 10 days between flights (the first lesson with Jason was just 2 days after I did 2 flights in LA). Also I think that 4 p.m. is not my "peak" time – I was at work at 0730 since I was leaving early, I was tired and tense. Excuses, excuses – I just didn't feel like I knew how to do anything, basically. My turns were sloppy, I didn't scan the instruments, I didn't know where I was, and I still couldn't find the damn airport. But on the "get back on the horse" theory, I scheduled another lesson for tomorrow at 0830, so I don't go to Germany Saturday on a sour note (I hope! I tried to do another lesson last Tuesday but it was too windy with limited visibility). Other points:

· C150 is a wee bit snug for two big guys (Jason is 215, I'm about 205 these days), but it's OK – flimsy little doors on that puppy. Cute l'il airplane, though.

· Starter was on the fritz – Jason finally hand-propped it from behind ("Hold those brakes like you never held them before" – Jason called tonight, tomorrow's lesson is cancelled while they replace the starter, rescheduled to Saturday 1130 just before I go to Germany!)

· Airspeed and altitude control were lousy – flopping all over the place. The C150 doesn't weigh much even with our 400+ lbs on board, and updrafts can really throw off your stability.

· Instrument fixation! (no black disks today)

· Too tense on the controls – overcontrolling, jerky: use pressure and smooth movements!

· Steep turns: sloppy, slippy! More back pressure! Need windshield reference point!

· Stalls: Get this damn procedure down! Control pitch after recovery! Don't push the nose down for recovery, just relax back pressure (I lost 150 feet on one stall)

· Coordination drill: Dutch rolls, crossed controls (bank left but use right rudder to keep the nose on Providence, then reverse turn, holding bank-side rudder briefly before transition to cross-controlling) – fun, but sloppy (surprise!)

· We were short on time since I was so thick on the stalls and steep turns, so at 1725, Jason said, "semi-aerobatic maneuver," and did a cool, really steep descending turn back toward 1B6, almost a wing-over (nope, that's a steep CLIMBING turn, this was more a nose-low slice).

· I do like those plus and minus G forces, slight as they are in this "bug smasher" (as the air force types call these little Cessnas and Pipers – hey, we can't all be fighter pilots, except on our PC's).

· Another minor distraction was my camera – I took it along and shot a few pictures near the airport to try to ID the landmarks (big powerplant southeast of the runway is the landmark for turning to base when 36 is the active, and this powerplant should be easy to spot, though I still don't see the airport until Jason has us in the downwind, ½ mile west of it)

· With all of this, I don't think I've hit any sort of "wall," and it IS pretty damn cool that I'm actually flying an airplane up there at 3000 feet (give or take a few hundred!)

Time: Dual 1.0 hrs, TT 4.1 hrs (C150 at 1B6)