Tuesday, July 27, 1999

Steep Turns, Distracted Landings (#12 to #14)

I didn't take any notes on this (I'm writing this on 8/3/99 and I have another lesson tonight) -- it was an abbreviated lesson where we spent most of the time practicing 360° turns at bank angles up to 45° -- working on keeping the nose in the right position on the horizon with proper back pressure. Then I did one landing that I barely remember -- I was really distracted by issues having to do with the house addition we're trying to do. I felt pretty frustrated. The 45° turns were fun -- 1.4G so you feel something, but at first I was shy about applying sufficient back pressure to pull us through the turn, so the nose was dropping (and Kern told me to keep back pressure and proper rudder input so we don't get into a "Kennedy death spiral," a reference to the recent crash that killed JFK Jr and his wife and sister-in-law as he tried to land at Martha's Vineyard on a hazy night, flying his recently acquired Piper Saratoga - he regretted this little joke, but graveyard humor is a strong aviation tradition!).

Tonight we'll try some ground reference maneuvers -- I only really did those on one flight with Bjorn, back in March 1998 I think. Plus a landing or two. I really need to focus on holding the proper nose position in my climbing turns (don't let it drop!) and in my descent for landing (70 kt glide, nose DOWN, and down even more with full flaps). ALSO -- make those turns 90° to the runway! I have a hard time judging this for some reason. THINGS TO REMEMBER

• Watch for traffic in and around the pattern!
• RIGHT RUDDER only (mostly) on takeoff, and ease it off as speed builds up and control authority improves!
• TRIM for hands-off, power-off 70 kt glide for approach, and don't EVER let the nose get up near or ESPECIALLY above the horizon (too fast is better than too slow)
• Keep the nose UP in climbing turn out of takeoff heading
• REFERENCE points for 90° turns!
• Watch out the front for nose position -- GLANCE left and back for turn control

I KNOW I can do better on this stuff -- it's not that hard!

Editor's Note: This was just about the end of the 1999 "phase 2" -- I was in a new relationship and moving and house buying issues (after the house addition plan fell through) were too distracting and too expensive to allow me to continue flight lessons that year. There was an additional lesson with Kern on 8/3/99 (1.1 hours, traffic pattern and landings at Norfolk), plus a single lesson 8/29/99 at Sterling (3B3) with Jim Davitt (fundamentals, stalls, landing, pretty ragged). Total time at end of 1999 was actually 17.1 hours according to my log book.

Tuesday, July 20, 1999

Bouncing into Norfolk (Lesson #11)

First the good news: I'm landing the airplane pretty much on my own (and my taxi and takeoff skills seem pretty decent now). Five landings this lesson. But the bad news is that I'm wildly inconsistent on some very important tasks, especially my pitch and speed control on final, but also on turns in the pattern, which is kind of weird. Kern said he thought I would have a lesson like this -- hitting the wall or whatever they call it (nope, I didn't really do THAT). But I really need to work on KEEPING THE NOSE DOWN when I'm on final -- it really does look like I'm afraid of hitting the ground in the nose-low attitude that you have in the C152 on final with full flaps (I don't feel afraid -- I believe my eyes and in fact really noticed for the first time whether the touch-down point was moving up or down or stable on the windscreen -- usually moving UP since we were low on every approach, even on Kern's one demo landing).

The weather was really good -- there was a thunderstorm Monday and that left some really nice, stable weather behind it. Once again, practically no wind -- I have my hands full enough without it, but we'll have to deal with crosswinds one of these days. My first takeoff (runway 36) was good (I used a distinctive cloud as a reference point to stay on my runway departure heading), and we turned left 90 at 800' then made a 45 to leave the pattern. We finally headed east (090) for Norfolk airport (32M), which we found easily this time by following the correct (and distinct) power lines, then noting the small pond NW of the runway. I leveled off and held my altitude (2000') and course very well this time.

Norfolk was pretty much deserted and looks more rural and run-down than 1B6. They have a single runway (36) which is shorter and narrower than 1B6, but they also have a taxi way, which saves time and is safer than back-taxiing on the runway. Kern talked me through the pattern entry for 36 after we overflew the airport and he checked the wind sock and tetrahedron (they have both). I don't remember much about the first landing, though I started leveling off at 1000' on downwind rather than 1200' as required, and I don't know why!

In the pattern, for some reason I started lowering my nose a LOT when I would make my turns. I think this is related to loss of attention to nose attitude when I look out the side to try to judge my angle and position to the runway (I also checked the directional gyro for a W heading), but it IS pretty screwy and really bugged Kern. When you make your (CLIMBING!) turn to crosswind after takeoff, you are trying to get to pattern altitude ASAP (1200') and establish a level cruise, but only VERY briefly. Very quickly you are abeam the numbers and need to pull carb heat on, lower power GRADUALLY to idle, establish a 70 kt glide, and TRIM for this (3 and a half turns of NOSE UP TRIM, cranking the wheel BACK or down for this, as I practiced many times in the car).

• Pull carb heat ON
• Lower power to idle
• Hold back pressure to get to 70 kts
• Lower nose VERY little to hold the 70 kts
• TRIM nose up 3.5 turns!
• Start your turn to base!!!

This was happening too fast for me, and as I was trying to judge the position and angle to the runway (hidden by the damn high wing!), I would let my nose go wherever it wanted to go! It even got up above the horizon once or twice, and my speed with no power was below 60, getting near power-off stall speed. THIS CANNOT HAPPEN!!!

So there I was with the nose moving all over -- the trim should have made the 70 kt glide essentially hands-off. Meanwhile, I would have taken too long to get these things set up, so my downwind is extended, and I'm gliding too low to make the runway when I finally turn base and then final, so every time I would have to add a LOT of power to arrest the descent, leading to a roller-coaster-style up-and-down approach, which was bad. Somewhere on final we also crank in FULL flaps (from zero), which requires even steeper nose down attitude to hold the 70 kt glide.

Finally I would be more-or-less stabilized on short final and start thinking about leveling off to fly level to the runway (maybe I'm subconsciously trying to level off way to soon when I let my nose get high in the approach???) and transition to the flare. But my height judgement was poor and twice I bounced without really knowing it - so I continued to pull back full on the yoke, thinking the main wheels are down. Kern knows (and assumed I knew) I had bounced, and he's applying FORWARD yoke, fighting against my back pressure -- he's getting the nose down, trying to keep us from stalling close to the runway! This was all pretty frustrating for both of us, but we kept at it for four landings at 32M and a final landing at 1B6 just about at sunset (really pretty sky on the short cruise back to Hopedale).

Next lesson we will work on some steep turns to try to give me a better sense of my pitch control from external references even when turning. Landings too I assume. I really want to do things right, and I don't know how to make myself do what I know I should (I hold pitch very well on our full-power takeoffs, rotation and climbout at the proper attitude, which is nose HIGH, going away from the ground!). I know pitch controls airspeed -- I know a LOT of stuff but my subconscious seems to have its own ideas when I'm landing. Kern seems baffled and asks me why -- sometimes I want to say "you tell ME why, you're the CFI!" -- but I just need to keep practicing and try to solve all the simultaneous equations until it all clicks for me.

We also had a Piper that we didn't see who came close to landing on top of us on our last landing at Norfolk -- he must have done a straight-in approach and he was not on the CTAF frequency, we heard no Norfolk traffic calls. He saw us and did a go-around, but a pilot walking his dogs while we were fueling told us that he came within 300' of us! Yikes!

Questions for Kern:
1. Full flaps on final vs. putting them in gradually (in stages, as many books show)
2. "Start your turn" calls looked wrong to me -- never looked to me like we could line up from that point - wind correction? Anticipating my slowness to react?

Time: 1.5 hrs dual TT 14.2 hrs, C152 at 1B6

Tuesday, July 13, 1999

Landings and More Landings (Lesson #10)

This was a much better flight overall, though I'm still inconsistent in many ways. I landed three times at 1B6, one of them pretty good. Doing all the flying myself though Kern is still talking me through a lot (though now putting more on me -- are we high or low, OK low, so what? Right, add power or you won't make the runway). My lineups on final were bad -- once I was WAY over to the right and I guess I must have slipped to get back lined up (or maybe Kern helped on that one?). Once I flared quite high and "dropped it in" as they say. Given that I didn't fly at all for three-plus weeks, I think I actually did pretty well.

We started out looking for Norfolk Airport, planning to fill the tanks -- but we never found it! I wasn't worried but it shouldn't be so hard to find airports within 10 or so miles of 1B6. Of course I was just as clueless (but this is consistent with my experience level and the fact that most of my brain is engaged just holding altitude!). Weather was very clear though there was a LOT of sun glare from windshield scratches when flying toward the fast setting sun in the west.

Filled up the first page of my first log book! Yippee!

Points to remember: Trees, climb speed, nose position, rudder use, climbing turn, coordination, judging the point to start pattern turns, toeing into the runway on downwind, setup for 70 knot glide, TRIM!, judging the turn to final, judging too high/low, use of power, FLAPS!, staying lined up with runway, judging when to flare, radio calls, forgetting basic procedures.

Time: 1.4 hrs dual TT 12.7 hrs, C152 at 1B6

Saturday, June 19, 1999

Get Your Nose Down Bruce (Lesson #9)

I didn't record any PC notes for this flight on the day I took it (today is 7/14/99). This was right before I left for Japan on 6/20 and it was a busy weekend! I flew with Kern to North Central Airport in RI (SFZ), my first takeoffs and landings away from 1B6. SFZ (shown here) is the nearest uncontrolled airport that has good size runways suitable for early landing practice (and taxiways too - 1B6 requires back-taxiing after every full stop landing). I'll add more later (there are a lot of hand notes in Flight #17, mostly done on the flight to Osaka the next day).

This is where I adopted the Native American name "Get-your-nose-down-Bruce" because I had a tendency to hold too much back pressure when the nose was supposed to be slightly down for the gliding descent in the landing pattern. This was perhaps an "instinctive" attempt to keep from going down too fast, but of course it would slow down the airplane more (not a good thing when you are slow for landing anyway, and close to the ground). I guess I did it a lot.

Time: 1.4 hrs dual, TT 11.5 hrs, C152 at 1B6

Editor's Note: Blogging this ancient history in October 2006, I note that SFZ ended up being the airport where I finally took and passed my check ride in May 2001, so it's interesting that this is where I first started to work seriously on landings. Maybe I'll dig out my old paper notebook "Flight #17" and update with those notes sometime, but probably not! The reason that it was #17 so early in my flight lesson career was that I had been keeping notebooks on my various flight sim experiences since 1994. Flight sims and a lot of reading were the reasons I knew so much of the basic flight stuff even on my intro lessons in 1997, though my practical skills lagged far behind my formal knowledge!

Thursday, June 17, 1999

Practice in the Rain (Lesson #8)

It didn't look VFR to me -- gray and drizzly -- but clouds were all at 10,000 feet, the WX said, so Kern said "we're go." Well, they weren't ALL at 10K -- quite a few floating around at 1100-1500 feet gave us some trouble. Not to mention the C172 was in for 100 hour maintenance, so we flew the little C152 (not a bad little plane, though we were only 60 pounds under max gross weight, and it climbed VERY slowly). Kern took a Boston VFR Terminal Area Chart -- a good idea, it turns out.

Well, it's late, so I don't have time to give the gory details. I did better than last time but still rather spotty on holding altitude and keeping my nose where it should be and my eyes out of the cockpit. Taxied better (need work on even braking). First takeoff was still a bit hesitant (Kern said last flight I "kissed the ground goodbye," touching my wheels lightly after liftoff, insufficient back pressure and a dip in the runway). I did OK on the climbs, some drift, but OK on rudder and coordination I think. Practiced turns (including two 360's), climbs, descents. Little wind and poor ground viz, so we didn't do ground refs today. Visibility started to look QUITE poor in some directions when we reached 1500 feet, but we pressed on to 3000. Ended up west for a while, then south, then north, then south -- then lost!

Not exactly LOST, but neither of us really knew where the airport was, and there were a LOT of clouds around. Kern tuned in the Putnam VOR (in CT, 122.8), knowing the 074 radial points straight to 1B6 (we practiced intersecting a radial, I guess!). But we got confused by the lack of recognized landmarks, the clouds, and the fact that we BOTH forgot we had crossed Rt 140 at some point (we were briefly actually IN some of the clouds -- Kern is instrument rated of course, but it's still not a good idea). So it took a couple of iterations with the VOR to get us back -- Kern was real annoyed with himself. I was never worried especially -- we had a lot of fuel and plenty of places to land if need be. Coolness or clueless? Good question - I really did relax and enjoyed a few minutes of sightseeing while Kern took the controls and tried to find a recognizable landmark (he was not as good as I expected at this, oddly enough, considering his long experience, but in fairnesss, he really doesn't know the Hopedale area that well yet).

ALWAYS carry a VFR Boston area chart, PAY CLOSER ATTENTION to landmarks -- maybe try to say "we're southwest of the airport, maybe 10 miles" to track our position.

Finally Kern talked me through the pattern on a left upwind entry from the south (runway 36). Again, sloppy on nose attitude and altitude control, but I managed, and we both were on the controls for the final approach, flare, and landing. Then we back-taxied and took off for one more time around the pattern -- this time I controlled the takeoff much more smoothly (smaller "pressure like" excursions on the rudder pedals compared to large excursions needed for taxi at low speeds). Overall a very educational and enjoyable flight (finally hit double figures in logged time, barely).

Next lesson in two days! Then off to Japan for two weeks (oy!). I think I may be able to solo this summer if I can make progress as Kern expects. I have my student pilot flight physical scheduled for July 8 in Newton (another $75 for that, but I'll be qualified to solo if I pass). Better check my eyes with these glasses before the test…

Time: 1.2 hrs dual, TT 10.1 hrs, C152 at 1B6

Saturday, May 29, 1999

My "Flight of Passage" (Lesson #7 - Start Phase 2)

It's funny how I met Kern Buck -- in September 1998 I read the book his brother Rinker Buck wrote about their flight across the US in a radioless Piper Cub back in 1967 (Flight of Passage). Then I heard his name in the waiting room at Jiffy-Lube in Milford when we were both having our cars serviced, and I introduced myself (maybe March '99?). We talked on the phone a few times, kinda fun, he was renewing his CFI rating and said we'd go flying when he did.

Well, he did, and we did! Flew a C172 (N738NL) on a gorgeous, windless Saturday morning in Hopedale, where Kern is now a freelance CFI (I guess). We preflighted the airplane together, and I handled all the operations, taxi, and takeoff (he did the radio calls). We worked on the four fundamentals since it had been so long since I flew (climbs, glides, straight & level, turns). He talked me through the approach and I followed through on controls for the landing (he had some trouble finding the airport when we were out west near Mendon -- it's a new flying area for him, he took his IFR instruction at Hanscom).

I did OK on taxi, takeoff (a little hesitant on pulling back at Vr), straight and level, and climbs. Turns were pretty good too, I think, though I gained or lost some altitude on some of them. On glides, I got so hung up on speed that I lost track of my directional control and let the nose wander all over the place. NEED TO HOLD SOME LEFT RUDDER ON A GLIDE. Why??? Shit, I forget!

I don't really have the money for frequent lessons, but I'd like to fly once a month and not worry TOO much about "progress" -- make some slow progress, keep my hand in the flying game. Maybe do self study to take the written exam. Kern would really like to "solo me" this summer or fall, and at $90/hour, we're talking "only" about $1000 for the 10 or 11 hours that this would probably take (I thought I had more time than I do -- there are some unlogged hours, but I probably need around 10 hours of "recent" time to really be able to solo. I'd also have to get my medical exam -- don't have to take the written before solo, but that would be cool too). It's "only" $1000 but with everything else I'm doing, it's kinda tough. I should really level with Kern on this -- if he wants weekly flights, he needs to get an additional student, not just me!

I like Kern -- he's an interesting guy, certainly, and seems OK as a CFI, pretty relaxed, but not as relaxed as Bjorn. Of course this was our first flight, and his first flight in a long time as CFI (though he has 2000 flight hours, 1000 of them as CFI). We need to get our goals in synch -- I'd love to fly a lot and solo and get my ticket ASAP, but money is too tight for this right now.

Follow-up: I spoke with Kern about scheduling more lessons. During the call, Kern told me that he thought my flying was really good, and that I knew most of the basics pretty well. He said I really just need work on integrating it all, practice and pointers, and that within about 2 lessons we could start to work on takeoffs and landings, with the idea of solo by the end of this summer! That would be so cool! Trouble is that 8-10 hours will cost $800-1000, and with house plans underway, money and time are tight. BUT IF NOT NOW, WHEN? Kern says if you love it, then find a way to do it -- don't keep putting it off. And it's important to fly regularly, like once a week (travel permitting) so I don't keep backsliding and having to review for half the lesson. I'M GONNA TRY FOR IT!!! Take a look at the budget...

Time: 0.9 hrs dual TT 8.9 hrs, C172 at 1B6