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.
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.
Today we did my first cross country. We hopped up to Cheyenne (CYS) using a flight plan I created a few weeks ago as homework and flew back on the reverse. Most of the flight was flown with a combination of pilotage (visual landmarks) and dead reckoning (using time, course and speed to calculate fixes), but we had the VOR tuned in both ways as a backup. The way up was pretty uneventful. Moderate turbulence was forecast, but we had a smooth ride both ways. For a holiday weekend both airports and the airspace between seemed pretty deserted. I had a hard time keeping my altitude steady for the first half of the way up, but realized the throttle lock wasn’t holding quite as well as it good. I’d noticed it on trips around the pattern, but it’s not usually a huge issue when you’ve constantly got a hand on it. Once up in Cheyenne we had lunch at a Mexican place attached to the terminal. They were only serving breakfast, but it worked out as they have a pretty good machaca. The trip home we did a few what-ifs, consisting of being diverted to Greeley when were just past Carr, and a pair of “if the engine went out here would you make it there” scenarios. I was complimented on having things pretty well planned, and now I just need to get used to some of the differences of a cross country flight. I usually don’t include things like oil and exhaust temp when we go out the practice area and perform maneuvers, but I need to get used to doing it in cruise flight. Next up my instructor would like to get me checked out to solo outside of the pattern at our local airspace. Not sure how far along we’ll get on Tuesday, but it’s very exciting indeed.
Today (yesterday, I forgot to publish this last night) I got nine more landings and 1.5 hours in my log book. .6 of those hours and four landings were all on my lonesome. This time around I made some of my finest landings, I even compensated for being alone right off the bat. BJC has nice long runways so I was able to do touch and goes instead of full stop landings. We almost weren’t able to get even that in, as there was an odd extension to the temporary flight restriction from the Democratic National Convention. For some reason VFR aircraft in the normal TFR, and the Delta airspace surrounding Metro needed an ATC assigned squawk code, similar to an instrument flight. This was taking a good deal of time, so initially we thought we’d head up to Fort Collins to practice. As we were waiting for our code and taxiing out to the runway there were a pair of Colorado National Guard CH-60s. This was my first up close look at one, and boy are they big. After we finished our run-up we asked ground about our code, right when the TFR lifted. What ever big wig was coming in or out of the airport had gone, so we decided to stay in our home pattern and make the best use of the time we had left. What normally takes us 15 to 20 minutes took nearly 40. All the same, I got in 5 landings with my instructor and 4 solo! Turns out I really am a pilot, and safely landing a plane on my son’s birthday wasn’t a fluke!
Sunday we’re planning to do my first cross country flight. A cross country is defined as any flight where you land at any airport other than the one you took off from, but for it to qualify for most certifications that airport must be at least 50 nautical miles away. Further for some of them. We’re going to use a flight plan I put together to Cheyenne a few weeks ago, and I’ll just plug in the weather numbers. This week I gleaned a bit of good information from the AOPA news feed that calculates best speed and fuel economy, which I’m going to post about tomorrow or Saturday.
I’m hoping I can keep this rate up and get my ticket while 2008 is still in session. In the mean time I’ll follow the advice of my friend Mariko and what CFI Jason Miller say a lot (in their respective languages), “do your best”.
AKA Precision Landings. This is where your goal is to put the plane down on the ground (safely). Mine were pretty close to the mother-in-law approach, but after 11 landings in the book, the last three were pretty darn close. Due to weather it’s been three weeks since I’ve gotten up, so the first three landings weren’t as close, or smooth as they could have been. A lot of that was getting back in to the hang of things, and by the third landing my pattern and approach were a lot better, I just wasn’t in the box. A few more tries later and my instructor had me try dragging it in, which helped a lot but may not be the preferred method (having spare altitude is always nice). This involves coming in low and then using power to keep the plane aloft, but usually under the glide slope. As you near your touchdown point you make subtle power changes to increase or decrease your float time before you touch down.
It was fun trying to put the plane right where you want it, but I’d like to practice until I can use a technique that actually keeps me on the glide slope. That’s preferred for obstacle avoidance, and having enough altitude to glide to the runway should there be an engine problem. No dead stick (engine out) landings this time, though I was kind of expecting one. We’ll probably do some next time. My instructor also said I’m back to where I was pre-wrist hardware, so if the weather agrees next week I’ll be soloing again. I’m looking forward to that as I haven’t soloed at my home air port yet, and I wasn’t with my primary instructor up at Longmont. I’m going to have to charge up my camera and clear up the memory stick this time around.