Tuesday, August 29, 2000

Supplemental: Several August Flights

Wow, I’ve gotten behind in documenting my flights. It’s not that they are routine or anything, but I’m short of time tonight too! Briefly

8/19/00 Dual with Mario, 1.1 hours – Filling in my syllabus items with power-on and power-off stalls and 0.4 hours of simulated instrument with foggles. This was turns to headings, climbs, and descents. This was a pretty good lesson.

8/27/00 Dual with Mario, 1.6 hours – We got carried away! Plan was to practice forward slips at altitude, and we did a little, lining up with some power lines near the Quabbin as if they were a runway, but very high. Forwards slips to lose altitude fast (20 degrees of flaps, though Mario does them with full flaps too, usually not recommended). We also did a little VOR and pilotage practice – it was good visibility but a lot of low haze that made it hard to identify location. If I will go solo to practice area, I have to be able to get back easily! Also tried “Dutch rolls” as Jason had showed me once, cross-control exercise, keeping nose on point, fishtailing with opposite rudder. Ended up talking about and going to the hook-shaped 2500’ runway at Palmer (PMX), and it took me three tries to land on it. Landing illusion from narrow/short runway, you think you are high. I’m spoiled by ORH’s wide 7000’ runway!

8/29/00 Solo landing practice, 0.7 hours in pattern. Frustrating session. Two fairly good landings in left pattern, then passing Hood blimp caused tower to put me in right traffic, and I got flustered and flew downwind too tight and didn’t reverse wind correction. This led to rushed base and high final. Overshot turn to final each time. Grrr! Need more work, and still getting slow on base!!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Dual: Pattern Practice

I've decided to lose the "lesson #" or "flight #" designation since there are now both dual and solo flights, plus some semi-documented flights, so I'll just mark posts as Solo, Dual, or Supplemental.

Mario was out this week because his wife just had a baby (their third, a baby girl). I planned to do some solo landing practice, and although the sky was clear and beautiful, the winds were outside the limits Mario set on my solo flight endorsement (8 knots, 4 knots crosswind) – they were at 300 degrees, but 16 knots, gusting to 23 knots. I was out of luck, but it looked like Doug Rio was just hanging around, so I asked him to fly with me. He said OK. He’s a young Brazilian guy, working on his MEI right now. We took the third C152, one I had never flown, 69L (six-niner-lima in the trade). It’s newer than the others, pretty nice, red-white-and-blue paint scheme, pretty sharp.

The wind gusts blew my around a bit, and it was fairly turbulent. I decided to use only two stages of flaps and tried to fly base and approach at around 70 knots rather than 65 on final. I got slow on one approach, got down to 1800’ on one base leg, and got down below 500’ AGL pretty far out on one final. Line-ups were fair, I’d say. All my usual problems, but slight improvements – I really held 70-75 kts from the numbers to final on all but one approach (on one I was up to 80 kts on part of the final). Still playing with power too much because I’m not consistent and I’m not nailing the 65 or 70 or 75 airspeed I need. ALSO – the view was lovely (not that I notice much in a landing session!), but the sun in the west was BRUTAL flying off runway 29. I need sunglasses, even some clip-ons for the flight bag for now, get Rx sunglasses soon, though! I quit after 4 landings because the sun was just too blinding, especially on climb-out.

It frustrates me that I plan to notice more things in landings – speed, trim, landmarks to hold headings and to turn toward, crosswind correction. But I get this tunnel-vision thing going and focus on 3 or 4 things (it used to be one or two – I read my account of lesson two with Mario, the June 5 evening landing session with two after-dark landings, which MiGMan just posted – man, I was CLUEless back then, just about 10 weeks ago, so I guess I am making progress). Doug was nice, he told me to watch my airspeeds, especially in gusty conditions, and also to watch pattern altitude (usually I’m good on this). Nothing to blame on Rio, though I wish I could have been sharper flying for another CFI.

I received my Jepp knee-board and the timer and yoke mount I ordered. Ready for cockpit management on cross-country flights!

Time: 0.6 dual, 0.0 solo, TT 31.8/1.1 hrs, C152 at ORH

Tuesday, August 08, 2000

Solo: All By Myself

Remember that Eric Carmen song, the one he stole from Rachmaninov? That was me, tonight. This was the first TOTAL solo, and it went OK, though I still can't figure out why I always pull the airspeed back to ~60 kts on final rather than the required 65 kts. Not a big safety issue since the C152 stalls at 35 knots with full flaps, but it's frustrating. When I arrived at 5:00 the ATIS said that wind was something like 260 degrees at 12 knots, gusting to 18 knots. This was outside my 4 knot crosswind limit that Mario endorsed for solo pattern work. So I waited, and by 5:30, the new ATIS said 270 at 8, so this was OK. I got the clipboard and walked out to N67661 for preflight.

I was very careful on the preflight and very deliberate in following EVERY checklist item for startup. Mario arrived with his student just as I was ready to start the engine. He asked if I wanted him to fly a couple with me, but I said no, I was comfortable. “As long as you’re confident – pilot in command!” (Mario’s favorite phrase!). I taxied out and heard ground tell a just-landed Hawker business jet to hold on taxiway delta while I crossed in front of them. As I did my run-up I heard that there were two planes on approach, a Learjet and something else. I called tower with “ready for takeoff, request left closed traffic” when the Learjet was on 3 mile final. I was told “clear for takeoff, no delay” so I taxied smartly (but not rushed!) into place and kept rolling as I pushed full throttle. I didn’t hold the runway heading so well on climb-out, one of my mini-problems. On downwind I watched the Learjet land, a pretty sight indeed. I called as I turned base (controller’s request, rather than mid-field downwind) and was cleared touch-and-go. Surprised I got no “caution wake turbulence” but it was no problem.

I still have trouble with getting slow on base and final, and I don’t really know why. Perhaps as I descend, I have an unconscious fear of “diving toward the ground” (though it’s really a controlled descent), and I hold extra back pressure. This was my problem with Kern – “get your nose down, Bruce!” – last summer. Lineup was poor the first landing, I overshot, but I did better on the other three. I got down to around 60 knots on final and added some power because I thought I was descending to a short position. I’m still really not judging the “point that doesn’t move on the windscreen” very well. I was not right on the centerline at touchdown (problem for narrower runways at other airports), and I had a small lateral drift, but I held it pretty straight. The other patterns and landings were about the same. I’m just frustrated with this getting slow thing. Need to work on this with Mario on Sunday.

On one approach the tower said “watch for landing Cessna on short final – keep your base turn square” meaning that I shouldn’t just swoop down military-style on a curved base-final turn, because the Cessna needed time to complete its touch-and-go. I saw the Cessna and replied “I have the traffic in sight, will keep my turns square for spacing.” Wow, real pilot lingo! I slowed down a bit as well. One time I got “cleared to land” before I even called the tower! I wasn’t sure it was me, so I called him to confirm this. I’m feeling pretty good about the radio work these days – I hear and repeat what I’m supposed to, and if I miss something, I call and ask. I keep it brief even though ORH is hardly a very busy tower (though one guy often covers ground and tower operations).

So I only did 0.6 hours, 4 landings (only $30) -- no sense in practicing something consistently wrong. Figure it out with Mario on Sunday maybe. We also worked on the flight plan for the first official cross-country for some time in the next few weeks (planned ORH to Pittsfield to Orange and back to ORH, though Mario says I could have simply gone ORH-PSF-ORH). Mario also suggested I practice flight calculations with the analog E6B as well as the electronic one (some cruel flight examiners have been known to take your batteries, “it just died, what do you do?”). On the way home I stopped and bought a Minolta 38-90 mm zoom point-and-shoot camera. My old SLR is too bulky, but for flights and air shows, I want better creative control for framing shots!

Supplemental - Cross-country cockpit management (8/9/00) – I just ordered some stuff that will help with the cross-countries, I think: a Jepp tri-fold knee board, a Westbend dual timer (large LCD display and buttons), and a medium yoke mount for the timer (velcro attachment, suitable for Cessna yokes – will also work with GPS if I ever get one of those little guys). This will allow me to keep the paperwork organized in the cockpit, and with the timer on a yoke mount “in my scan” (yeah, right) I will have a better chance at remembering to time my flight legs, resetting the timer for each one. This stuff totals about $80 from Marv Golden Discount Aviation.

I also saw a VERY cool thing on one of the sites (no, not a GPS, though of course I’m already lusting after those!). This was a digital “flight recorder” (FlightCom AiRepeater FC-37, $99) that attaches to the yoke and connects between the intercom plugs and headset. It records the last 60 seconds of audio received over the radio and lets you quickly “rewind” to hear if an ATC call was for you, or to copy down a complex instruction, etc. This could be a real safety aid on IFR flights, though I don’t think I need this sort of thing right now (plus 60 seconds seems a little skimpy).

Time: 0.0 dual, 0.6 solo, TT 31.2/1.1 hrs, C152 at ORH

Sunday, August 06, 2000

Dual: Mini-Cross Country

There have been a lot of days when I've been outside, looked at the sky and thought, "what a gorgeous day -- I wish I were flying!" Well Saturday was one of those days, and I WAS flying. Blue skies with a scattering of puffy white fair-weather cumulus. A little bumpy here and there, but nice. This was all-dual, 1.7 hours C152 with Mario.

I used the airport directory and NY sectional chart to do most of the pre-flight planning for a mini-cross-country, flying ORH to ORE (Orange Muni, just N of the Quabbin) to FIT (Fitchburg, along Rt. 2, over Gardner -- even saw the Gardner VOR) and back over Sterling to ORH. I hoped to detour E to fly over West Boylston and the Wachusett Rsvr., but the first part of the flight took longer than expected. Even though it was too short to be an official cross-country, I figured it would be good practice to get all the info, mark up the chart, fill in the forms, and all that. Then on the flight, following the chart, looking for visual checkpoints, finding and approaching unfamiliar airports, etc. -- just like a real x-country. It's purely a "local" flight for Mario, but I never flew into any of these airports, so it was authentic to me! Total ground distance was only 68 NM, but flying around to properly enter the patterns probably doubled that!

Mario was impressed with my flight planning -- I even got the weather and winds aloft at 3000 feet (only 6 kts at 20 degrees) but I didn't complete the corrections in my navigation log. It was harder than I expected to follow the chart on my lap while juggling 6 or 7 frequencies (ORH's 120.5, ASOS and CTAF for ORE and FIT, CTAF for Gardner when we overflew the airport at 3000 feet, ATIS for ORH, back to 120.5). I also had to look for check point landmarks, plan my entry to each pattern, and fly the airplane! I forgot a lot of stuff along the way, but Mario said I did OK.

Things to note:
• Frequency congestion is a big problem -- 3 or 4 area uncontrolled airports use 122.8 as CTAF, including ORE, and it was very noisy. It took a while to figure out that 32 was the active runway, and it took me even longer to figure out how to enter the downwind at 45 degrees for this since I was approaching the airport on the runway heading! A straight-in approach is bad form at uncontrolled fields (people need to see where you are before you just show up on final). I ended up doing a big circle around the airport which took a long time.
• Watch altitude and airspeed! I climbed to 3300 or descended to 2800 a few times from my planned 3000 (not a normal VFR cruise altitude, but OK for less than 3000' AGL). I should have cruised faster on some legs -- 100 knots maybe. Pitch, power, trim! I should try using the rudders more for slight corrections to course (due to bumps or my wandering attention). If the airplane is trimmed well, it won't climb or drift so much when I'm fiddling with the radios. With flight-following on future x-countries, ATC will expect you to stay at your planned altitude.
• I need to practice forward slips at altitude! I came in high into FIT and Mario told me to do a forward slip. I aggressively pushed full right rudder as he had done earlier, and rolled left at the same time, but I pulled back on the yoke! BAD MOVE. Perfect cross-control set-up for a spin at maybe 1000 feet AGL. People die this way. Fortunately the C152 is forgiving and Mario caught it in time. I need work on this!
• I did OK finding the airports, though I didn't hold my planned magnetic course very well, and I didn't re-adjust the directional gyro to the whiskey compass until I passed Gardner and realized the heading could not be right if I were heading right for FIT (which I was). I got a few of my checkpoints, missed others.
• Over-flying Sterling is a bad plan due to glider traffic there – we stayed further west, passing just east of Mt. Wachusett. We saw two gliders well above us to the SE. There were also "parachuters away at 9500 feet" over ORE. These things made Mario a bit nervous. I was not worried (big sky theory, or maybe just naive?).
• GET ATIS! Before calling ORH on return I forgot to get ATIS until Mario hinted that I had forgotten something. I also need to review arrival and departure plans. It would have been nice to know the active runways before I got so close to ORE and FIT. I wish N67661 had a better radio (one with a button to toggle between active and standby frequencies -- then you can tune in the next one when you have a free moment and just flip it in when needed -- 261 has this but it climbs like a dead dog, so I'll stay with 661 when I can).
• I need a knee board for flights like this -- juggling the loose chart and the other paper where I had written the TPA and CTAF info was distracting. This is a small taste of cockpit management -- I could see this being VERY important on longer x-countries. I need a timer too -- and maybe bifocals! The text on the sectional is small and looking at my watch is distracting, but I need to be timing the legs of the flight, and restarting the timer at each leg!
• On departure, from uncontrolled fields, you need to climb straight out to TPA and depart on a 45 degree turn (R or L) from there. Then turn to heading when you are at least 500' above TPA. At a controlled field, if you get "right turn approved," you can turn to course any time, though you usually should clear the end of the runway first (but OK if you are not at TPA yet).
• Photos were cool since it was such a clear day, BUT... it IS distracting, even when I say "your airplane" for the shot. PLUS I need a point-and-shoot camera with telephoto. The wide-angle Samsung doesn't cut it.
• TRIM, TRIM, TRIM! Both for cruise and for pattern/approach. Trim for the speed I need! I don't do this enough, and I'm not consistent on altitudes because of this. I also play too much with the power, which is bad because it messes up your speed (and trim), which you are counting on to meet your flight plan. There are a lot of things to keep in mind up there!
• Need to practice VOR intercepts and localization in Fly! or X-plane -- I used the Gardner VOR (GDM, 110.6) one time to figure out where were along the first leg (since I couldn't find the Barre race track, my second check point), but I was awkward with it. Another thing to juggle!

There's more I'm sure but I need to get back to work here. I've scheduled my first totally solo flight for tomorrow (8/8) at 5 pm, to practice pattern work on my own at ORH, if the weather is OK and cross-wind is less than 4 knots. This is followed by an hour of ground time with Mario to plan a longer cross-country together. I need to do some prep for this tonight!

Time: 1.7 dual, 0.0 solo, TT 30.6/0.5 hrs, C152 at ORH

Thursday, August 03, 2000

Supplemental: Cross Country Pre-Planning

I'm starting to think seriously about cross-country flying, which will also help me prepare for the written test (charts, plotter, wind, etc.). I scheduled a lesson with Mario for 9:30 am Saturday and left him a voice mail suggesting we do a "mini-cross-country" as a change of pace from all the pattern work. I roughly planned this last night, deciding to fly to Orange (ORE) then to Fitchburg (FIT) and back to ORH. This is a total of 68 nm which should be 0.85 hours (51 minutes) if average ground speed is 80 knots. I picked out check points too. This should be pretty educational for local area familiarization -- pass near a couple of the nearby western airports, over Barre (which shows a race track on the sectional), near the north tip of the Quabbin and into ORE. Then east over Gardner Airport (and VOR, GDM) and into Fitchburg, finally SSW over Sterling, west of the Wachusett, over Holden (possible detour to West Boylston), and into ORH. With landings, this could be up close to 1.5 hours. I think it's a good intro to cross-country flying.

I also found my old Los Angeles VFR terminal area chart and thought about that cross-country on September 17. I think I'll plan to go down to French Valley, which is in the SE corner of the LA terminal chart, near Lake Elsinore, uncontrolled, about 55 nm SE of EMT. Then I'll see if we can stop at Chino on the way back to EMT -- that would be cool to land there myself!