It’s been awhile and time brings a lot of changes. First and most important is a new addition to the flight crew by the name of Josephine. It remains to be seen if she’ll be as interested in hanging out at the airport as her older brother is, but we’re very happy to have her and she seems as infatuated with us as we are with her. Jack is taking to her quite nicely, making sure she’s always in a blanket, giving her lots of kisses and always worrying about her. So far he’s been the perfect big brother.
In other news I received my Temporary Airman Certificate a few days before my son’s birthday, the first week of May, just a few short weeks before Jo was born. The fancy plastic card showed up not too long later, but as you can imagine I’ve been too busy and under-slept to really exercise it. I got up once to practice some landings in mid-June and that’s been it so far. Rest assured I’ll put it to good use once I get caught up on some sleep. I owe my wife and many friends and family members some right seat time. For those of you that recall my time out last year (don’t click that if stitches and x-rays scare you), I had to take another much shorter one in April. This time to extract the screw from my left scaphoid (wrist) as it had loosened up and was wriggling around. This was causing all kinds of complications with getting flexibility back, but recovery was fast and I was on my check ride barely three weeks post-op.
On the site side of things I’ve got some plans for some of the static pages and of course I’d like to catch up with the entries in my log book. It’s been so long I’m sure I won’t have anything interesting to say about every flight, but there’s still a lot of experiences in there to get out in to the ether and hopefully motivate some other student pilots out there. Till next time!
Flight 43 was my first foray up after dark. Pre-flighting the plane with a flashlight was an interesting experience, and I think given the chance I’d rather check the oil before the sun goes down. We flew north a bit past Longmont, trying to identify landmarks and did some steep turns and some instrument reference maneuvers. We flew around with all the lights except the taxi on, and it was interesting how the light scatters at night, making it seem almost as if we were flying through a haze even though the city lights were nice and clear. We went back to Metro and I got in three full stop landings on the south runway before the tower had us switch over to 29R for a CH-60 coming in requesting the other runway. As they were entering the airspace they requested a low fly-over with the lights off. There was a brief terse exchange between the two that I didn’t fully catch as I tried to keep my downwind where it needed to be. Immediately afterward the tower controller seemed to relax and said, “now that we’re legal, we can leave you in the dark, let us know when you want the lights on.” It was disconcerting knowing the helicopter was over there and even with his position reports I was always worried I’d overshoot my base leg. We got in four more full stop landings before calling it a night, since it was just as and the CH-60. We taxied back to the school, leaving the Air National Guard chopper to play with himself in the dark, and I am now night current.
Akron Colorado that is, Ohio is a bit of a ways off for a student flight. My second cross country went almost exactly as planned. Winds were right about what was forecast, and I did a much better job of pre-flight planning, so passed my checkpoints as expected. My instructor and I talked about the route I chose on the way out, checkpoints and the like, and he said he made a point to follow the highway as much as practical. Even if it takes you a little bit out of the way, it makes navigation that much easier, as that’s exactly what we did on the way back to Metro.
In Akron we had a decent cross-wind, and I was coming in high for 29, I chose to do a forward slip, and wasn’t really correlating the crosswind (this was before my stint in the trainer) and ended up dipping the wing the wrong way. Fortunately the wind wasn’t gusting or strong enough to push us off the centerline at a worrying rate, and I smoothly transitioned back in to normal descent without mishap or having to go around. We touched down about two hundred feet past the numbers, which was about 190 feet past where I would have liked but the long runway worked out just fine. I didn’t quite slow down fast enough for the sole taxiway (as you can see in the picture, it stops half way up the runway), and had my first experience putting a plane through a U-turn and taxiing back on a runway. It’s a very weird feeling, and I kept worrying about incoming traffic. Traffic was again non-existent that day, which was a shame as the weather was beautiful. Visibility was incredible, and the air was smooth as glass.
On the the return leg we followed I-76 until we had to worry about Denver’s Class Bravo airspace, and then made a due east cut over to Longmont. By this time the winds had come up a little, and we had a mild crosswind from the left with about 10 knots worth of gusts. This last landing was pretty long, and with no flaps it had a very different sight picture than I was used to at the time. I never did feel like I got ahead of the plane with the gusting and ended up ballooning once before putting the plane down fairly smoothly.
Unfortunately this was my last flight in 64055, as a few weeks later she was damaged during a training flight at metro. Fortunately the pilot is alright. She broke her leg, but is recovering well and will hopefully be flying again early next year. Next up, my first night flight, and boy was it memorable.
I’m not talking about mouthing off to my instructor, or even anything as drastic as this Pitts Special. I got in another .4 hours of instrument time about two weeks ago, and recovering from unusual attitudes was part of the time. My instructor played the part of ATC, and vectored me out north and west, presumably to the practice area. Next we did two climbing turn recoveries and one diving under the hood. Recovery is the same as when you can see, but you have to recognize the condition on the artificial horizon after being tossed around a bit by your instructor. I have to admit, this was the one time that I felt a little queasy since starting all this. Once I got to open my eyes it quickly went away and I focused on the task at hand. For a climbing bank, the goal is to increase power while lowering the nose and then leveling the wings. In the one diving turn we did, you reduce power, level the wings and then pull up. The idea is to slow the plane down and reduce the wing loading before attempting to pull up. Many a plane has lost it’s wings trying to recover from this state while disoriented in the clouds. These procedures help us prevent get back to straight and level flight so we can then spend some time troubleshooting how we got in this situation in the first place. Usually that means not paying enough attention to what were doing in the first place. We must never forget to fly the plane first and foremost, above all other concerns. If I drop a pen I can always grab another, or search after the plane has been trimmed and I’ve taken a look for traffic and clouds. After that we tracked an ADF, then intercepted the VOR back to BJC. When we got the hood off I was amazed at how far out we were, but we were pointing right at the airport. I called up to get the latest ATIS, and it was business as usual after that.
Flight 41 was some more landing practice. I’m getting a little better at my soft-field work, though my spot landings aren’t quite bang on. Or, when they’re spot on they’re a little too bang on as I’ve almost flown the plane right in to the ground. Hopefully all the slip practice I got last week will help with my comfort level on final approach, and things will start coming together better.
I still need to put together a post for my cross country to Akron. Next on the plate is some night flight and a night cross country, probably to Colorado Springs. I just need to get some scheduling figured out between work, doctors and my instructor.
Today I got to be the guinea pig for five instructors and my school’s new toy. They are the proud operators of a new Xwind cross wind simulator, one of only seven worldwide at present. This thing was a blast. On a normal flight, if you’re lucky enough to get a cross wind (imagine, now I’m thinking of a cross as lucky…) you may get a few minutes of cross wind approach work each circuit around the pattern. This thing will let you spend all the time you need getting lined up, holding it, and playing with the conditions. It moves laterally and pivots on two axes to cover yaw and roll maneuvers. You can simulate a standard four seat high or low wing plane, tail dragger or tricycle, throughout and beyond the standard operating envelope. At one point in time they had me in a 15 knot cross wind, with 5 to 10 knots of gust, and mild turbulence (we like to call that the Jeffco Factor). It was educational, as you can see how hard it is to land a plane at it’s limits, and downright fun knowing that you can experience it with zero fear of bodily or property harm. I got a lot of practice transitioning through crab angles and both slips and back, while minimizing drift off the center line. I was hoping to do some cross wind work, and when they offered to let me try out the simulator instead of a plane (BJC was down to one runway anyway) I jumped right on board. I drove to the airport nervous about how I’d do and glad I would get some safe practice, and left feeling drastically more confident. I flew the simulator a hundred times better than I thought I would, once I got used to the responsiveness of the controls. As a student it’s hard to really judge how well you’re progressing with some maneuvers, especially those involving landings and getting time in this thing has me excited for the next situation where I might exercise the practice. As one of my instructors once said, “we like to play with cross winds, it should be fun, if it seems like work we probably shouldn’t be flying in them”.
I can’t wait for my next chance to play.
I am way way behind with these, and I have such great things to post. I hope to get all caught up this weekend, though I have a long cross country scheduled for Sunday so I may end up short. Anyway, on to what we did last week.
Last Thursday we left Metro intent on getting some more landings in, preferably away from BJC or Erie. We flew up to Longmont and got in one full stop, but it was quite busy, so we meandered on over to BDU (aka Boulder Municipal). It’s on the north east side of town, so was a very quick jaunt over from LMO. This is by far the smallest strip I’ve landed on, though the airport itself has a lot more aircraft and services than Erie. We got four touch and goes in on runway 8. Gliders operate off the smaller strip just north on the runway (8G/26G in the picture), and coming in for our first circuit I finally got to see the towing operation first hand. It’s quite impressive how quickly a glider gets off the ground! Every single one of my landings here were way above the glide slope turning on to final. That body of water right off the approach end of 8 is Hayden Lake, and this was my first experience being over water on short final. I got some practice in slipping the airplane to get down without going too far past the displaced threshold. I’ve mentioned side slipping for crosswind landings, so here’s a quick rundown on the forward slip for the non-pilots. A forward slip is a cross controlled maneuver that allows one to bleed off altitude without increasing airspeed. While a side slip keeps the nose aligned with the runway so that you can fly through a crosswind, it doesn’t do much to your descent rate. A forward slip keeps your ground track, but points the nose away from the center line, and allows you to descend quite a bit without speeding up the plane, or more importantly your ground speed. The names seem opposite of what the maneuver looks like, but if you look at your flight path through the pocket of air you’re in it starts to make sense.
I’m hoping to get another post up tomorrow, and I may roll the last two flights in to one, as yesterday was a short flight and mostly landing practice.
Last week I got two really good flights in. I started the week with a short jump over to Erie for a few touch and goes. Dropped my instructor off, and then soloed back over to Metro for a couple more touch and goes, and then back to Erie to pick him up. Erie is barely outside of Metro’s airspace, so it’s a little busy getting up, leaving the airspace, getting information and planning an approach. Take too long to put it all together and you may end up with an weird entry to the pattern because you were too far north and east for a standard midfield entry. Luckily heading the other way you can just head west while you gather information and make your calls to BJC. Metro was very busy leading up to my first touch and go, so I had to do a 360 just outside their airspace while waiting to make contact. As soon as that first one was done though the frequencies went so quiet I almost thought I lost my radios. All in all it was a pretty uneventful flight, which is, I suppose, how first solos (this one outside of the pattern) should be.
Later in the week we worked on more short field landings, and even a few dead stick (simulated engine out) landings. I’m getting better and my airspeeds, but still need some work on dropping it in steeper for short field landings. I have a tendency to get a low approach and then drag it in with power, or coming in above the glide slope which ends up with a long roll out. Our last landing was quite fun, but a bit unnerving at first. We were in the south pattern, left hand traffic for 29 Left, when we were offered 29 Right if we could make our base before the numbers. We took the clearance, or rather my instructor did, and set up for a power off full flap landing. Our nose was pointed so low and directly at the pavement that I imagined we could have been sky diving. We touched down about a quarter way up the runway. I was worried at first, when we were high up but at 9000 feet long there was plenty of room, and once I was closer to the ground and had a more familiar sight picture I settled in for a nice smooth landing.
I’d been eyeing The Killing Zone by Paul Craig at Borders for months before I found a search engine that would let me check out all the libraries in the state. I finally got it in my hands a few weeks ago, and took even longer to start reading it. That seems par for the course since I became a dad, but I’m not complaining, just enjoying my son while he still enjoys my company. The premise is based on a huge amount of data from both NTSB and NASA ASRS (more on these in a moment) reports, and clearly indicates that pilots with less than 350 hours of experience and out from under the guidance of an instructor are most likely to be involved in a fatal accident. Of course these numbers are relative, there are not an alarming number of accidents in general aviation, but the best philosophy is that any avoidable accident is one too many. Craig splits the book in to the following categories of accidents, incidentally these are also names of ten of the eighteen chapters. Anything in parenthesis is my addition to his chapter name, either to provide clarity for non-pilots or commentary. This order also coincides with the percentage pilots dying in each condition. VFR flight in the clouds kills far more low time pilots than midair collisions, etc.
- Continued VFR in to IFR Conditions (flying in to the clouds when you have no business being there)
- Maneuvering Flight (aerobatics, procedures, turns, etc)
- Takeoff and Climb
- Approach and Landing
- Runway Incursion
- Midair Collision
- Fuel (mis)Management
- Pilot Health, Alcohol and Drugs
- Night Flying
Each chapter includes excerpts from National Transportation Safety Board reports, and almost all of the accidents are due to poor decision making on the part of the pilot in command. These excerpts are analyzed and every single situation involves stuff we’ve learned in ground school and primary training. In most cases, Craig also includes survivor stories from the NASA Aviation Safety Reporting System. These are reports pilots can make to NASA after they feel they’ve made a mistake. These reports are not actionable by the FAA, and until recently some have considered them a free pass to cover them if they screw up. This has proven pretty true over the years, but there have been cases of extreme negligence that FAA has acted on. Though, in all of those cases that I’ve read so far the FAA was involved at the time of an incident, and not from one of these reports. I like reading the ASRS reports, as there’s always something to learn from them. No matter how many times we practice a procedure or read about a situation, it helps to read about real world occurrences and I feel better prepared for what flying may throw at me.
Craig usually includes lots of the basics about maneuvering, getting in to and avoiding a lot of the situations in the book. I think his chosen audience includes the general public as well as student and low air time pilots. Personally I didn’t mind re-reading some of the basics about procedures or aerodynamics, but I find I’m not always a typical student pilot. Some that I’ve met seem to be in a rush to finish training, and one was even annoyed with having to learn the E6B whiz wheel, since he “only rents planes with GPS”. It won’t earn a permanent place on my already crowded bookshelf, but I’ll definitely grab it from the library again after I get my ticket, and I’d highly recommend it for any low air time (<500 hours) or safety minded pilot.
Today was my third solo, and third airport. This was by no means my best work, but it was also at my least favorite airport. Erie’s runway is only a little shorter than Longmont, but it’s got a decent amount of grade and rising terrain on both sides. Usually you climb out of an airport at Vy (see last post) but the first touch and go reminded me of how slow this particular 172 climbs so most of my takeoffs were at Vx, the best angle of climb speed. This is used to get off short fields and over obstacles, and a new housing development adds a couple dozen feet to the hills already around the field. My instructor gives nervous situations like this a “pucker factor”, of which I rate EIK fairly high. I finally remembered to snap a picture while I was downwind for my second solo landing, so now I have proof I can land safely. Flying’s the easy part.
So last week this post came across the AOPA news feed, and since my first cross country was this week, it was quite timely. The ballooning gas prices are on everyone’s mind now, especially people with hobbies or businesses that depend on some form of engine. Now, as a renter I don’t pay for fuel so I could conceivably rip around at full throttle or maneuvering speed if it’s bumpy and not worry about how much it’s costing me in fuel. However, as one who likes his club, it’s planes and conserving what’s left of our environment for my child(ren), I do what I can regardless of how small the effort may seem. About two weeks ago I downsized my truck for a commuter card with over twice the mileage. It helps that I’ve been eyeing the new Mini Coopers since BMW brought them over to the US, and that we can always hook a trailer up to the other car should I need to haul a crippled bike. In the end I guess all vehicles regardless of the number of wheels, terrestrial or aerial use should be chosen for their primary mission. Ah the things we learn when we start taking on new skills, motorcycles made me a better driver and now the perspective of a pilot is creeping in elsewhere as well. Enough rambling, on with the lesson.
If you haven’t just skipped ahead to the AOPA post yet, here’s how fuel economy works in a plane. While flying you generate lift to keep you aloft, and a byproduct of that lift is induced drag. The faster you go the less of that drag exists, as you can fly at a lower angle of attack (basically, how high the wings and nose point in the air). There is a tradeoff though. Parasitic drag increases the faster you go, unless I suppose your plane is two dimensional. The chart above shows this curve, the scale for speed and drag can change, but the curves for induced and parasitic drag are always the same regardless of the plane. This is a fixed ratio, which makes sense but isn’t always glaringly obvious, even to seasoned pilots. L/D max is the point that both of those curves meet, which gives you the most efficient lift and best rate of climb (Vy), but leads to a slow ground speed and sluggish control inputs. If you need to get somewhere for the least amount of fuel, and time is no object, that’s the speed to do it. Pilots though, like drivers, hate poking around at speeds we don’t have, especially if it make the plane fly like it’s in molasses. Well it turns out the L/D curve isn’t a full ellipse, it has a flat spot in it. In that flat spot it seems you can glean almost a third more speed, for only a fifteen percent increase in drag. That’s probably the best trade off in the whole curve. The formula works out to 1.31 * Vy and will work for every single plane out there, since the drag ratios never change, just they’re relation to speed and drag.
It also turns out, in the planes I fly, maneuvering speed with full tanks and the lightweights that my instructor and I are meet up nicely with this formula. I won’t have to think much about it, clear air or not. Now if only there were such an easy formula for my Mini.