Expect Left Traffic

Flight 43 – Pretty Lights

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.

December 30th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | | |

Cross Wind Simulator

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.

October 16th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | | | |

Flight 39 – KBDU

Boulder_06 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.

October 3rd, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | |

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 |

Tags: | |

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 |

Tags: | | |

Flight 35 – First Cross Country

cys 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.

August 31st, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | | |

Flight 34 – Second Solo

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”.

August 29th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | | |

Flight 33 – Spot Landings

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.

August 23rd, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | |

Flight 26 – The velveteen touch of a dandy fop

NOTE: I accidentally made this a page, so the post is WAY late.

That’s how lightly we’re supposed to settle on to the runway during a soft field landing.  I didn’t.  I’ll practice, but my stifled laugh isn’t what it used to be.  Soft field technique is used for un/under improved runways.  Places where the ground is soft or muddy, gravel, riverbeds, etc.  During takeoff, everything is the same as normal except you use 10° flaps and you’re applying full back pressure on the yoke, easing it forward once the front gear pops off the runway.  Not too far forward as you don’t want it to settle back on to the ground try to keep in that pitch attitude as long as you can.  During this I was surprised at how quickly the nose came off the ground, and was certainly not expecting the plane to pop up not long after (I tried to keep the nose off and the mains on as long as I could).  Coaxing the plane to hang out in ground effect while it built up speed was quite fun though, once I got over the initial surprise of being fully off the ground.  You really only get one real shot to practice the takeoff during touch and goes (and that’s when you first get started), as you hardly slow down enough during an “and go” to get it done.  My soft field landings didn’t go as smoothly as the take off, but that may have a lot to do with being in a plane I’m not terribly familiar with.  Most of the Cessnas I fly in have 160 horsepower, and this one pushes 180.  It also has a shorter throttle travel which takes some warming up to.  During a soft field landing you approach at full flaps, and try to touch down as light as possible.  Normally when you come in you’ve got very little or no power, and you’re simply trying to bleed off airspeed while holding the plane just barely off the ground.  With a soft field landing you add a touch of power to slow your descent rate (but not enough to arrest it) and try to just barely settle on to the ground.  Then kill the power and hold the nose off as long as you can.  Once it’s back on the ground, keep that yoke all the way in the pit of your stomach, so that the front gear is as light on the ground as possible while you taxi.  Get that stuck in the mud while you’re rolling forward and you’re asking for a prop strike.  Delicious.

Anyway, I’ve noticed I have a tendency to not get to these for a day or two after I fly.  I’m going to try and make a point to be better about that.  I like having some time to reflect, but having the flight fresher in memory would be helpful as well.

May 25th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | |

Flight 25 – Crosswind Landings

Ah the side slip.  Yesterday we had perfect conditions to practice some crosswind takeoffs and landings.  My takeoffs were pretty good, but it was nice to get some practice on the side slip.  The landings went okay, but I think I would like to practice a few of them as low passes, not touching down, just slipping all the way down the runway.  This helped me normal landings quite a bit and I think would help me with practicing the transition and getting a feel for the technique, without having to worry about rounding out and landing right away.  This picture I found from a forum does a good job of demonstrating how this is done (and since it seems a few friends of mine reading this are not as knowledgeable about aviation, I should start explaining things more often).    A crosswind left uncorrected will cause you to drift off your course.  Easily correctable while enroute somewhere, but not so good when you’re trying to land.  Initially you approach the runway with a crab angle established.  This is where you point the nose in to the wind enough to correct for drifting off course.  Landing with this crab angle is possible, but hard on the landing gear, and usually a bumpy experience that passengers don’t appreciate.  A side slip is where you dip the upwind wing down so that the wings compensate for drift, and you use opposite rudder to to stay lined up with the runway.  In a steady wind this isn’t too tricky, when it’s gusty it’s a bit more interesting.  In a good landing the upwind wheel will touch down first, followed by the other main, and finally the nose wheel.  As the plane slows down you have to use more and more aileron and rudder to keep things lined up.  It seems very much an art to perfect and keep on top of.  We got in ten landings in the time we had, it was a lot of fun and good practice.

In digging around for some stuff on side slips, I also found this picture of Bob Hoover (an acrobatic pilot) making a perfect landing in a severe cross wind (notice the direction of the dust kicked up).  Someday I’ll get there, maybe I’ll even have the moustache to match.

May 16th, 2008 Posted by | Flying |

Tags: | |