Sunday, July 10, 2011

Theory and Practice and Slow Feet

You know the line "what's the difference between theory and practice? In theory there's no difference." But in practice...

I did another lesson flight with Ed in the Citabria late this afternoon at Sterling (3B3). The plan was to briefly review stalls and then practice takeoffs and landing somewhere. Normally this would be Sterling, but it was such a gorgeous flying day, there was a lot of glider activity and other traffic at Sterling, so we thought we might head over to Worcester (ORH) for pattern work. We did a few stalls at 3000 feet, and I did better on procedures, keeping the wings level with the rudder, and executing better and more prompt recovery than last time. So we listened to ORH's ATIS on the radio and learned that the runway in use would have a strong crosswind. It was close to 5 pm so we figured maybe the Sterling glider folks would be packing up soon.

So I headed back to Sterling - or so I thought. We had flown further west and north than I thought and with the clearing turns and stalls, I got a bit disoriented. We were near Mount Wachusett and I spotted a divided highway I thought was the I-190. In fact it must have been Route 2 up by Fitchburg! So I was flying away from Sterling! Ed turned it into a GPS mini-lesson. The aircraft has a combined COM/NAV/GPS installed, not very fancy but functional. Ed told my how to enter "direct to 3B3" and I did a 180 and followed the GPS back to 3B3.This will be useful if (I mean when) I start flying solo.

Sterling also had a crosswind on 34 but not as bad. It also had a lot of traffic we had to watch for, including a glider turning to final and some other inbound gliders and powered aircraft. I entered the pattern and extended the downwind to allow the glider to land and get clear. My airspeed control and turns were so-so and I was fast and low on final. Ed reminded me that I could trade airspeed for some altitude. He helped quite a bit on the landing since I wasn't quite ready for the crosswind. We taxied back and took off again.

Takeoffs should be fairly easy, but my feet are still slow, and I don't apply rudder fast enough to keep it rolling straight. This is harder in a tail wheel airplane than in a tricycle gear (Cessna 152, etc.) plane, but I did some work with Ed in his Cub in 2004, and I should know the drill. I also spent a lot of time this week reviewing the takeoff and landing sections of The Compleat Taildragger Pilot so all the pointers about the dynamic rolling behavior are the airplane were fresh in my mind (that's the theory part).  Ed was able to save us from my swerves and keep us from ground looping ("heading for the weeds" as they say). Although I was trying to be fast, I wasn't "jabbing" at the right times (causing instead of fixing problems). And I was still slow to recognize deviations and correct them. You've only got the width of the landing gear to play with - if you swerve out of that roughly 6-7 foot zone, it's very difficult to recover. These things are VERY touchy, and I really had a lot of trouble with the Cub in 2004. At least with the Citabria, I'm flying from the front seat and I can see very well over the nose even with the tail down in the nose-high stall attitude. We did another takeoff and landing and I wasn't much better.

Oh well. I knew this would take a while. But I'll get there. I've got another flight early tomorrow morning before work. The air will be calmer and we'll probably have the runway to ourselves. I'll focus on teaching my feet the tail wheel dance - trying to keep in time to the music, I mean the airplane.

Citabria 1.1 hours dual at 3B3.

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