Sunday, March 29, 1998

Going in Circles (Lesson #6 - End of Phase 1)

Bjorn was back from Sweden and the weather looked good for the weekend (unseasonably warm, in the 70’s), but Saturday afternoon was too gusty to fly. So I rescheduled for Sunday morning at 8:30. It was still a little windy and picked up through the flight, though above 3500’ it was pretty smooth. I was late in rotating on the takeoff (watching for 60 mph for Vr, but the nose wheel started to shimmy – it was actually a crummy takeoff, and a sign of things to come!). I thought I would do a little better because I had spent about an hour on Saturday sitting in the cockpit of the 172 to be more familiar with the instruments and controls. It didn’t help!

When we got to 3000’ (over Woonsockett, which I incorrectly guessed to be Mendon! No SA either!), Bjorn had me start doing some steep turns, 45° left and right, trying to return to my starting point in heading without losing altitude. I sucked at this! My big problem was overcontrolling and using jerky, fast inputs on the wheel. Second, I was not really aware of what the “sight picture” should be out the window, and I kept looking at the attitude indicator. I applied control movements sequentially rather than simultaneously, and I failed to notice when the nose was going down from insufficient back pressure in the turn. Sometimes I would overbank (30° normal turns don’t require much opposite aileron, if any – but at 45°, the airplane wants to keep rolling into the turn, so you have to apply some opposite aileron to hold the 45°, plus jimmy the wheel around to keep the wind from knocking you out).

The big problem with the nose dropping was caused by not applying smooth back pressure at the same time as I moved from 30° to 45° in the bank – then I would have to roll BACK to 30, apply back pressure, then go to 45 again and try to hold it. I felt like a one-armed juggler – I just could not keep all these things in mind at the same time! Grrrr!!! Bjorn did a couple of demos and made it look easy – on the first one, we felt a little bounce of turbulence as he returned to the exit point he started and went through our own wake.

I need to ask him to get the black disks to cover some of the instruments to force me to be more “eyes out of the cockpit.” Maybe I also need a sort of review lesson of basic stuff – standard turns, straight and level, setting up for climbs and dives. This three or 4 weeks between lessons is pretty frustrating, but that’s life as we know it. The budget will not take much more than this.

On the way back to 1B6, we went through a simulated emergency landing setup, cutting power and using the airport as our emergency field. The one thing I did well was setting up for best glide speed at 75 mph. But I let the wind drift me all over the place, and we were way too high and fast for the landing, so I did a go-around (probably my first – maybe 200’ above the runway, apply full power, establish a climb – I forgot to raise the flaps, of course!).

I really do need to go in a day or two before each lesson and sit in the airplane and rehearse the procedures we will do. Next up is slow flight (again!). At this rate, I’ll be doing landings, oh let’s see, when I’m 63?!?!

Time: 1.0 hrs dual TT 8.0 hrs (C172 at 1B6)

Editor's Note: With the divorce and other stuff going on, money and time just got too tight, and I didn't take any more lessons with Bjorn - in fact this was the last lesson until May 1999! This was the end of my "phase 1" attempt to get my pilot's license (1997-1998) - there would be another brief attempt in 1999 and the big push that finally succeeded in 2000-2001.

Tuesday, March 10, 1998

Ground Reference (Lesson #5)

I lucked out on the weather – there was a big thunderstorm last night, but this morning it was OK. It was quite windy and the cloud level was fairly low but still OK for VFR. Bjorn was very cool – a much more patient and understanding instructor than Jason (not burned out yet?). He suggested ground reference maneuvers, which were fun!

Preflight and run-up were fine, and I’m taxiing more smoothly than before, despite the long layoff (the airplane feels at least a little familiar now). There was a fairly strong crosswind from the west, and we took off to the south (18, left end of 1B6) then departed west (right turn) toward Mendon and Upton. The crosswind really blew me around on takeoff – Bjorn prompted me to crab into the wind and hold right rudder while on full power. I leveled off at 1500’ and looked around for a rectangular field to use for pattern work. I had some problems with the strong wind from the west (I wasn’t really visualizing this wind, I was just using the ground reference points and horizon to try to keep a constant distance from each leg). I was rather sloppy on this, but I got better after a couple of turns around the field, gradually steepening or shallowing the bank on the upwind or downwind).

I did a lot of turns around a point, using a comm tower near a distinctive silo, and at first, I did something like the picture shown above, from John Denker's See How It Flies. I should re-read the various chapters on maneuvers. After a while I did see the pattern of how to vary the bank continuously vs. the wind.

Finally we went over to Rt. 146 and did a bunch of S-turns across a road. This really IS fun! I did pretty well overall, sometimes undershooting the road (e.g. being perpendicular to the road before I was over it), sometimes starting the outside of the S too early or late. But I made a couple of turns that Bjorn said were really good, even holding altitude.

In general, though, I did NOT divide my attention that successfully. He kept saying, “keep your nose up” and I would gradually lose or gain altitude in these maneuvers (between 1000’ and 1700’ vs. nominal 1500’ we wanted). I got real steep a few times when I was too far from the reference point, and lost sight of it. Also on the approach back to 1B6, I did OK on turn to base, but overshot the turn to final again, doing a steep turn back when I was slow and low power -- NOT GOOD! I got a bit nervous with the crosswind, fearing I would not make the lineup, so I asked Bjorn to take over after I lined up, and I followed through.

He made a decent but fast and somewhat floaty landing to the north (36), with a LOT of crab required on the final, and a lot of cross-control slipping on short final (that felt really strange, I recall – I could really feel the slip as he used opposite rudder and aileron to stay lined up with the runway in the strong crosswind). Now I don’t want to wait 5 or 6 weeks for the next lesson – I could make some progress on landing now that I’m getting a better feel for controlling the airplane w/r/t the ground, even with a stiff wind. I was a happy camper. Bjorn is off to Sweden until 3/26. Jeff says I still have over $600, but I don’t think this is right. He promised again to send me a full accounting.

One other thing: I really felt like I was flying the plane “naturally” or something for a few minutes during this flight – doing what I had to do without thinking about the mechanics. Not quite Zen-like, but getting a feel for flying (and only in brief bursts). I wish I could fly every week now, but I can't.

OTHER PROBLEMS: Still rather dead on my feet when I wasn’t thinking of the rudders or looking at the ball. Weak on trim. Unaware of most instruments. Looking at RPM’s too much when I adjust the throttle. Not looking for traffic very often. Better on external references for attitude, but still not good. Bjorn suggests that I spend some time (for free) sitting in the cockpit of the C172 on the ground, memorizing instrument positions, switches, and procedures. He said you could even rehearse stalls and landing approaches, like a fixed simulator – hey, maybe I could bring my notebook PC in there…

Time: 1.0 hours dual TT 7.0 hrs, C172 at 1B6

Tuesday, February 03, 1998

The Separated Man Also Rises (Lesson #4)

The separated man also rises! This was my first lesson since the whole separation (and soon divorce) mess started in fall 1997, just after I got back from Germany. Quite an interruption there (of a lot of things!). A few little changes at Hopedale too – Jason and Joe both gone south, and Jeff has a new CFI, Bjorn, a very young Swedish guy who is really nice and has excellent English. I preflight checked the C172 (the C150 is gone too – bummer), and also did all the taxiing, the takeoff, and climbout (let it get a bit nose high/slow on the climbout). It felt OK. Scenery was different with snow and no leaves – a lot easier to spot the airport!

I did OK on straight and level, climbs, turns, etc. except for a tendency to drift right (too much rudder and/or not adding left aileron to compensate for the right rudder held against full-power engine torque). I also looked at the instruments too much and trimmed too early. Bjorn had me do some slow flight, which was pretty good once I got the power and trim set right. I asked for stalls and he let me do power and power off stalls. I let the nose come up too high after one and got a secondary stall (actually was close and Bjorn pulled it back the rest of the way to show me – the left wing dropped a lot, but we recovered fast before any spin possibility – I also allowed the nose to drift high after recovery other times, and was off on timing the raising of flaps. NEED TO GET A POSITIVE RATE OF CLIMB BEFORE CUTTING POWER OR RAISING THE NOSE TOO HIGH.

I was able to spot the airport better with water tower landmark and black strip vs. white field. He talked me through the turns as we glided down to pattern altitude (1300 feet). He let me do the final approach, but I turned from base to final WAY too late (I thought he would take it at that point). Had to make S-turns and come in rather steep and fast – Bjorn took the plane and saved the landing, but touchdown was beyond mid-field (still plenty of room to stop, but not exactly slick).

I’m thinking I’ll try to do maybe a lesson a month – slow progress at that rate, but better than zero, and all I can likely afford (if that!). I like Bjorn – hope he sticks around a while. I should start my ground school study again, but I’m too busy looking on the Web for prospective dates! I’m finding women who sing, but so far none with an airplane! Maybe I should join a pilot’s club of some sort?!?!

Time: 0.9 hrs dual TT 6.0 hrs (C172 at 1B6)