Thursday, August 18, 2011

In the pattern: Consistency and Decision Making

My last Citabria flight with Ed was on August 3, and although he came back from vacation last Saturday, the two flights we had booked earlier this week were both canceled due to weather. I was making decent progress on landings on August 3, but two weeks off usually results in some backsliding, and that was true this morning. First the good news: takeoffs and basic air work in the pattern were still OK, and I did better in lining up with the extended runway centerline on the turn from base to final, so I wasn’t as distracted by the need to zig-zag the airplane back to the correct (lateral) approach path on final.

The bad news fell into two areas, inconsistency and delayed decision making. The inconsistency comes mostly from the downwind leg to final approach. Starting altitude is generally OK (TPA 1500 feet), but my spacing from runway on downwind tends to vary and sometimes is too close, even without a crosswind to confuse matters. I really need to have the runway above the half-way point on the left wing strut or my base leg will be too short. When this happens, I end up high on final. I can correct this to some extent by extending the downwind leg by a few seconds after I’ve brought the power back to idle. This gives more time to descend (although you really don’t want to be heading away from the runway while descending – bad if the engine quits – better to fly a properly spaced downwind and not have this problem).

OK, so I turn base and then final, and usually I’m high (and sometimes fast too, but there should be time to slow down if I notice soon enough). Here’s where delayed decision making comes in. I’m still relying too much on Ed to say things like “you’re high – how about a slip.” I need to notice and act on this myself, perhaps announcing it first in case I am misjudging. But if I don’t say or do anything, Ed can only assume I don’t see the problem. That’s the first decision point. The second one is the go-around. If Ed leaves it to me to fix up the approach and I don’t, I end up fast and high, and if it’s too late for a slip, or if I blow the landing and bounce high, it’s time for a decisive go-around. I need to show him that I can judge and act on these things without his help.

This was the first flight with my new video “hat cam.” I’ll probably write a separate post about that, but I got the entire flight on video from my own perspective. I have edited out the approach/landing phase (about 2.5 minutes) for each time around the pattern, so I can review these clips to see what went right (and wrong). I won’t do that here (maybe I’ll do some in a separate post with some screen grabs if that seems generally instructive). Of the five landings, one was a bounce, saved with power (Ed’s prompting), and one was a TWO bounce monster, for which Ed initiated a full-power go-around because I was not solving the problem and we were running out of runway. One landing was pretty good and mostly me (my best set up and airspeed control), and two required long slips on final, which Ed prompted and I flew. I am doing better on getting the stick back in the final flare for landing and keeping control on the ground roll-out.

All in all not an impressive performance, and I hope to redeem myself on Sunday if the weather cooperates. I plan to "forget" that Ed is back there and make all the calls and actions myself, even if this means I do a few go-arounds. I have the basic skills to land this airplane, but I need to work on making it do what I want it to do, and that involves making some timely decisions about when to apply those basic skills. It's time to integrate everything as I once was able to do the in the C152 way back in 2001 when I passed my check ride.

1.0 hours dual in Citabria (8/18/11)