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

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