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

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