Expect Left Traffic

Flights 37 & 38 – Performance Landings

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.

September 24th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

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Review: The Killing Zone

killingzoneI’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
  • Ice

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.

Personal Thoughts:

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.

September 13th, 2008 Posted by | Books, Flying |

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Flight 36 – Third Solo, EIK

DSC00769-640 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.

September 4th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

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Best speed for the money (1.31 * Vy)

lift-drag 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.

September 1st, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

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