Tuesday, June 13, 2000

Starting to Get It! (Lesson #17)

Final approach Worcester, MA

It was cloudy and light rain at ORH, but when I called Mario, he said OK as long as we stay in the pattern (low ceiling, clouds coming in, but still VFR). So we did, and I had a GREAT lesson! I did 6 touch-and-goes and one full stop landing, and two of them were actually pretty good. The others were bouncy, high-flare jobs, but Mario only had to take over on one of them (I added power to salvage one bouncer myself). I felt good, felt like I was actually doing most of the things I know I should do. I was fairly relaxed and felt in control of the airplane and myself. And Mario says I'm just about ready to solo! He said I was really flying the airplane out there last night. One or two more lessons and we will get that psychological barrier and life milestone out of the way. Unfortunately this will be in early July since I leave Saturday for my Korea to Germany business trip (around the world on UA and LH).

The good news items include:
• Followed checklists in detail this time, preflight, engine start, run-up, etc., no skipped steps or backtracking.
• Handled all the radio calls myself, from taxi to landing, including the base call for each touch-and-go.
• Good taxiing -- stayed on the lines (remembering that the reference point is in front of MY eye, not the center of the cowling).
• Good takeoffs -- nice rotation, trim, hold 67-70 knots, stayed aligned with the runway heading until crosswind turn at 1700 feet.
• I remembered and followed all the pattern steps with almost no prompting.
• I used trim much better, especially on climb-out and level off for the downwind leg. With this, I was able to fly with a very light touch and no PIO. This also helped me to stay quite close to pattern altitude (2000') once I got there.
• My patterns were reasonably rectangular and I sometimes corrected for the slight crosswind, though I varied on this. Used shallow turns, none over 30 degrees, and rolled out aligned with the runway on most approaches.
• I noticed the spot on the windshield that did not move on touchdown.
• Looked down the runway for flare height cues (but didn't read them right most of the time!).
• Good takeoffs on the touch-and-goes -- get flaps up, carb heat off, full power, steer with small corrections. I did swerve a bit sometimes, and I kept too much weight on the nose wheel sometimes, leading to a dreadful rumbling.
• Did not get flustered when we passed briefly through a cloud on downwind -- I just watched the attitude indicator.

The BAD news items include:
• Poor airspeed control on base and final -- need 70 knots on base, 65 knots on final, and I was not trimmed for this AND I chased the airspeed indicator when I was off speed. Need to pay more attention to the outside cues, where the nose is, and NOT get slow on final (e.g. 60 kts). Being stabilized on final will help the flare too, less variation to worry about.
• Got close to runway on downwind a couple of times, leading to a rushed turn to base and then final -- a carrier pattern! But this didn't give me time to handle flaps, radio, lineup, and air speed stabilization without feeling rushed. Part of this was the tower's request that we keep a tight pattern so he could keep us in sight (clouds were coming down) - Mario says on a better day, we could extend the downwind.
• High flare! I still start to get nervous with the "ground rush" in the last few seconds, worrying that I will land on the nose wheel, though I am still pretty high. This will come with a bit more practice and a stabilized final.
• Poor wind awareness -- I corrected for the wind sometimes but still didn't fully grasp what it was doing to me on each leg. It was not a bad wind, from 100º at 7 knots, while we were using runway 11 (110º), so it was just off by 10º from the left. Mario gave me a tip, not sure how general -- 100º wind direction was LESS than the 110º runway heading so crosswind was LEFT. Have to think about this one for other directions! It actually seems wrong based on the picture I just drew - LOOK THIS UP!
• Last landing was AWFUL -- bounced so much Mario said it should count as three landings. He said this often happens after a good session with touch-and-goes, on the full-stop landing the student loses focus and does a real stinker. Oh well, he said the total lesson was really quite good.
• Consistency! This is a major thing -- still a lot of variation and times when I fail to do things I know I should do AND know how to do. But this is part of the learning process too, and very typical. It's also related to confidence -- knowing I can do something, feeling free to make adjustments, not hesitating or always checking with the CFI. Mario says that the solo helps this too -- once you have experienced being the only "pilot in command," you know you can do it, and it makes it easier to learn the rest.

I am far from perfect, but with this lesson, the good news outweighs the bad, and I feel like I finally am really starting to "get it." Landing an airplane is starting to feel like a normal thing to do. I think I should be able to solo after maybe two more lessons (one to catch up after 2+ weeks away, then final prep and solo).

Time: 1.1 hrs dual TT 20.2 hrs, C152 at ORH

Monday, June 05, 2000

Pattern Work at ORH (Lesson #16)

One good flight deserves another, right? Well, the next couple of weeks will be busy, so I decided to take another lesson yesterday -- nothing for 10 months then two in two days! We got another late start on the scheduled 7 pm lesson and decided to stay in the ORH pattern (landing runway 11 this time, vs. 29 yesterday). This means we were landing a little south of east, 110º -- there was a crosswind from the north, so I had to crab to the right on the downwind, angling slightly north of the nominal 290º downwind heading to keep from toeing in and crowding the runway on downwind (something I tend to do anyway). It also increased my ground speed on base (tail wind) which contributed to my late turn to final (something I tend to do anyway!). I was so wide on the first one that I did a go-around (I tried to parallel the runway like an "upwind leg" but Mario told me I should be right over the runway for a go-around, so I flew over there). Good thing there was no other traffic there last night!

I never really "visualized" this crosswind, and I think this is what made my landings so rough. Since I was going EAST on final with a wind from the NORTH (left to right), I needed to crab into the wind to have the correct ground track -- bank to the left. Mario wanted me to hold in this bank (left yoke) and straighten the nose to track straight ahead by using RIGHT RUDDER. I more or less did this, but with overshoots and corrections, I was swinging all over the runway (good thing it's so wide). We did maybe five touch-and-goes, with Mario calling the tower to report left base each time (I was too task-saturated to think about the radio calls -- once he was so busy explaining something that he forgot to call base and got a mild reprimand from the tower -- "you seem to be on final, you can go ahead and land if you want" -- that's a real no-no at a controlled field, but it was otherwise dead there -- the controller was cool about it and Mario apologized).

Meanwhile it was getting dark (picture is from the Fly! simulator), another first for my flight lessons -- the last two were basically night landings. On all of the pattern work, I was quite tense and this showed on the yoke, PIO all over the place (pilot induced oscillation). As usual, when I'm busy I forget about trim, and I also notice overshoots late and tend to jerk the yoke back to where it should have been -- bad move! Things to remember and do:

· Use trim all the time! Trim is your friend! Establish the 67 knot descent near the end of the downwind and hold with trim. When off trim, I tend to get slow (nose high) then over-correct pushing the nose down. You don't want to be slow on base and final at 1000 feet AGL or less!

· Don't over-bank in the pattern -- 30º max, 20º even better!!! This isn't an F/A-18 carrier break!

· Think about the wind -- get a mental picture!

· Smooth, small inputs on the controls.

· Look to the end of the runway for the flare cues!

· Memorize the pattern procedure -- carb heat, power setting, descent, sight picture!

· Work on my instrument/outside scan! I tend to fixate on one or two things at a time.

· Memorize go-around procedure and the emergency procedures Mario gave me.

One cool thing that Mario demoed and I then tried was flying the pattern with ONLY trim and rudder, no yoke! Adverse yaw gives you your turns (right rudder to bank left), trim controls your nose (pitch) and therefore speed. This was a lot smoother than when I was horsing the yoke around. Mario says we will work on things like this to get me more comfortable with ALL the controls in the airplane (people have had primary control failures and used trim and rudder to land -- it can be done, and it could save your life).

I felt very overwhelmed and not very slick last night especially when Mario had to save a couple of the landings after a big bounce, but he said I'm doing fine for this stage, typical problems, and I'm not that far from solo. We need to work more on pattern and landings of course, and also on emergency procedures. He wants to put me under the IFR hood for a bit too, since I've never done that and it's important if you end up in a cloud. Somehow he seems more down to earth, patient, and positive than Kern -- I like him better as a CFI. I also bought a POH (handbook) for the C152 and my own fuel-tester. Yesterday I also got the E6B flight computer I ordered from Sporty's -- I prefer this over the slide rule thingy for the various calculations you need for flight planning. On my Korea trip, I will concentrate on completing the FliteSchool CD-ROM ground school course so I can take the written test in July. Depending on weather and other schedule factors, I hope to get 6 to 10 lessons in by September and solo the airplane. I will put $1000 in an account at Amity so I can get the $50 "club rate" on the C152 rather than the $56 standard rate.

Simulator Stuff
Meanwhile I decided to return the Saitek X36 stick/throttle set I bought last week, as cool as it is. I'll replace it with the new CH Flight Yoke LE USB (about $90 on the web), which will be much more realistic with Fly! I'll try using the existing CH Pedals with it (works OK with the Logitech though it's very jerky in the calibration screen), though I may later buy the USB Pro Pedals which include toe brakes (Fly! supports these). I think I can even work on pattern stuff that way -- set my RPM, watch my descent, put in a cross wind and crab or slip against it. Some of this is just getting the procedure to be totally routine, and I think Fly! is close enough to reality for this (though it's fuel-injected C172R with no carb heat to pull, vs. the 1980 C152 we are flying IRL - no biggy).

Time: 1.0 hrs dual, TT 19.1 hrs, C152 at ORH

Sunday, June 04, 2000

Back in the Saddle (Lesson #15 - Start Phase 3)

I missed writing up a lesson or two with Kern last summer, I think, plus a rather poor showing in a C152 flight with a CFI named Jim, a real old-timer at Sterling (3B3) when I decided to try that out right when I was moving to this area (I just learned that Jim died of lung cancer last week, leaving Sterling with but one very busy CFI). So here I am in the next millennium, re-immersed in sims and deciding at age 47 (+1 day) that the clock IS ticking, and I better get some real flying in if I ever want to solo and get a PP certificate. I fixed up my insurance situation with a pilot-friendly level term policy. Yesterday we stopped by the Worcester Regional Airport (ORH, elevation 1009 feet) to pick up some info at the Amity Flight School. We were driving on to gigantic Quabban Reservoir, almost to Amherst, on a birthday outing to enjoy the wonderful weather and scenery -- and it turns out I did a power-off stall over the very same body of water today!

I should have reviewed these notes first, but it was a bit impulsive -- I called this morning and scheduled a one-hour lesson with a CFI named Mario for 1 pm. Things ran late due to ATC problems (a no-radio student pilot in the pattern was part of it). So we actually took off closer to 2:30 pm, from runway 29. ORH is a controlled airport with ATIS, ground control, and tower control. I did most of the radio work with guidance from Mario (early forties, African-American who reminds me of Arthur Ashe). Pre-flight, taxi, and runup went OK, a little weak in parts of the checklists as I got distracted by things like a two-engine turboprop airliner landing just in front of us as we held short! Takeoff was OK, though I drifted off the centerline as usual on climbout (hold that DAMN RIGHT RUDDER and figure out a reference point to use during this nose-high climb!). It was a "straight out" (not "direct" as I said on the radio) departure to the west.

By drifting, I ended up directly over the Spencer Airport, not a good place for maneuvers! We continued west (a bit NW) and did some steep turns, 45 degrees right and left. Surprisingly these were OK -- I lost about 150' on one and shallowed the banks a bit. Then he had me try some climbing and descending turns to specific headings and altitudes -- e.g. from 3000' heading north, climb and turn to reach 3500' at 180 degrees (south). I was not good on the timing, but I got better on the 3rd or 4th try -- need to (quickly!) establish the best speed for the climb or descent, THEN dial in the bank angle that will allow you to turn in the time it takes to reach the new altitude. Pretty cool.

Then over the Quabban itself, I did a power-off stall that was pretty good, though I didn't pull back hard enough to get a clean break without a bit of coaxing at the end. Mario said the examiner will most often ask for an imminent stall -- horn, buffet, identify, recover. Safer and quicker for them (full stall could lead to a spin if you botch the rudder too badly, not likely but posisble). Mario was always pointing out airports and good fields for emergency landings -- many out that way and good practice.

Finally I headed back SE toward ORH -- Mario asked me how to get back to the airport, and for once I KNEW! I spotted Mt. Wachusett and deduced the correct heading back to the airport. Spotted it about 6 miles out (it helps that it's on a large hill!). Do I have SA, or what? Well, "not" is probably correct, but in fact I had been looking at the charts a lot and flying test flights around Worcester in the new Fly! flight sim (I installed USGS-based scenery for Eastern Mass, using a freebee called TerraScene - now I need to get the Quabban area files to add to my region, since that's the typical practice area).

We called the tower to report our position over the town of Spencer (first flying there so we would be in position to get a left hand pattern, my preference -- ATC was handling both at ORH, and a glider who strayed too far from Sterling was in a right pattern for runway 29 -- the other two runways are closed for service, to make them wider and longer). We had to set up for a 45º entry onto the left downwind (for 29), which worked out to roughly north from where we were, and we used a pond as a guide to entering at the right (45º) angle. We had to call the downwind and then extend it for an arriving helicopter that I spotted first, low above the Worcester skyline to the east of the airport. I told Mario I was task-saturated with the pattern and traffic (and flaps!) and asked him to call the tower to report base and final. I turned base, rolling out early when I thought Mario said to do so, then corrected. I overshot the turn to final (surprise!) and had to S-turn far to the left to line up (careful to stay coordinated on this turn).

There was a moderate cross-wind that Mario thought I could handle, and I sorta could. He said "push hard right rudder to line up the nose, then bank to track the centerline. This was a cross-control maneuver, a slip really. I started OK but released the rudder too soon, then swayed back and forth with the ailerons, trying to correct the line up. Got the right rudder back in (maybe Mario helped on this part) and thought I was lower than I was, so I flared too high (another shocker!). I slipped some more, lined up, and landed mid-field, using up most of the remaining runway. Not my finest landing, but we walked away from it.

Overall Mario thought I did great considering no real flights since August 1999. I like him -- if I can fly with him once a week, I think I can make real progress. He doesn't seem as slick as a pilot (vs. Kern), but he is a lot more easy-going as a teacher. So now I have maybe 18 hours (and 47 years, as of yesterday!). I think the sim stuff, especially Fly! with the actual area airports, terrain, and navaids, will really help me -- even got rudders again -- Fly! supports multiple game devices, so stick/throttle can be USB and rudder (with a "dummy" stick to make Win98 see it) in the game port. Cool, cool, cool! But I want to fly for real once or twice more before Korea (less than two weeks -- that will be an interesting but nightmarish flight in itself, from Boston to Seoul to Germany and back home in maybe 10 days -- around the world, as they say).

Hey, I can fly today's flight in Fly! Dial in that crosswind…

Time: 1.0 hrs dual, TT 18.1 hrs, C152 at ORH