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

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