Monday, July 11, 2011

Happier Feet (On the Grass)

I had another flight with Ed this morning. I was a bit early at 3B3 and it was practically deserted. I had my hand-held radio tuned to Sterling's 122.9 MHz traffic frequency, mainly to listen for Ed to call traffic when he was approaching the airport so I could get a picture of the Citabria landing (he was flying in from Spencer, 60M). But a few minutes before that I heard a call to Sterling traffic - helicopter inbound from the north. I had noticed the heli-circle but had never seen a helicopter land there. It was cool to watch. Ed showed up a few minutes later and I got a so-so picture just before his 3-point touchdown on the grass (I should have brought a digital camera with a decent lens and zoom range instead of relying on my BlackBerry's mediocre camera).

The flight itself was much better than the previous afternoon. We stayed in the pattern, and with no traffic, we did four takeoffs and landings in less than an hour. There was no wind to speak of, so we decided to start out on runway 16 (160 degrees, southeast). I asked Ed to fly a full pattern himself, narrating his actions as much as possible so I could have a reference point to compare what I have been doing wrong. I've flown with Ed in the past, and as usual, he flies the pattern like the airplane is on rails. Experience!

I think that demo helped because my three takeoffs and landings (all on the grass) were better than any I had done before (we switched to runway 34 for the rest of the time). I was still a bit slow on the pedals on the takeoff roll, but better than yesterday - not quite happy feet, but happier than they've been recently. My airspeed control and turns in the pattern were pretty good, though Ed had to prompt me to crab for the crosswind on the downwind leg. He also talked me down on final and on the level-off and pull-up into the three-point landing orientation just before touchdown.

Oddly enough my directional control on the landing roll-out was pretty decent, much better than the takeoff roll. Could it be the grass? We tried the last takeoff from the grass to see. I was still a little bit behind the airplane, but better than on the paved runway. Maybe this is psychological - the grass is much wider and without a well defined edge, so maybe I somehow feel less constrained and more relaxed. Anyway, I was getting better, but it was a work morning and I couldn't stick around any longer. At least I came away with a more positive attitude than the day before. I can improve! I can do something right!

Supplemental note: Modern airplane engines are very reliable, but you have to train and plan for engine failure and other emergencies just the same. It can happen. I've never experienced anything but simulated (instructor induced) engine failure, but after I left Sterling yesterday, there was a real one that could have been bad but turned out well. One of the pilots involved was at Sterling this morning and told us about it. His Piper Pawnee was towing a glider as it often does at Sterling. He noticed an odd vibration just after takeoff, but it seemed to be flying OK until 800 feet when the engine quit! He signaled the glider pilot to release the tow line (he had already figured it out). The glider turned around and made the runway safely. The Pawnee pilot said he immediately lowered the nose and established best glide speed. He made a 180 back to the runway and landed safely - pretty impressive from 800 feet.

0.9 hours dual in Citabria at 3B3.

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