January 2019 Archives

January 26, 2019

Flight Lessons #6/7

After a two week break, I flew twice in the last week: Lesson #6 on Mon Jan 21st (MLK Day holiday) and #7 today on Sat Jan 26. It's been a mixed bag.

Monday started off very cold: 25° at 8am. We had to bring out the jury-rigged heater to get the engine started. It's got a propane tank gadget that my CFI used to blow hot air to the engine. Steve, however, is a master of getting cold engines to start.

The lesson started with my nemisis: taxiing. When you're on the ground, you steer the airplane with the rudder pedals at your feet. Those pedals are attached to springs which move the nose wheel: at least that's how it's supposed to work. I'm fairly sure last Monday when I was pressing left, gremlins were sitting under the floorboard and making the plane go right. That's got to be it, right? It's not just that I'm crappy at it? In any case, I'd try to taxi for a few seconds, the plane would go the opposite of where I wanted it to go, and my instructor would say "My airplane!" and take over. I tried again a couple of times, but somehow I just was not getting it. Even though I'd done a takeoff the previous lesson and should have done it again, I told Steve I didn't feel confident in my ability to keep the plane on the runway, and he agreed.

The rest of the lesson was uneventful. I think Steve decided I just needed to do some review, so we went out and did some steep (45°) turns, trying to maintain altitude. Steve showed me one, and as he came back around, the plane hit a bump - and Steve turned to me, excited, and said "We just hit our own wake! That's how you're supposed to do it!" Needless to say, I was in no danger of repeating his feat.

It was also very clear. Steve said he could see planes landing all the way down at Hartsfield. You'd think it would be cool to be 2,000 above the ground on a beautiful morning - just look at everything! But when you're up there, your attention is fully consumed, and you really don't have much time to enjoy the scenery. If you want to enjoy looking at all the cool stuff, take my advice: go up with someone else and enjoy the view.

Steve's summary of the lesson: "You're doing fine in the air but terribly on the ground!" disagree.

It's better for learning if you can fly more frequently. Several times a week would be ideal. But I made the improvident decision to start flight lessons right before we also decided to buy a house. So until we get into the house and the finances stabilize again, I'm trying to fly every two weeks. Those of you who live in Atlanta realize that next weekend we're going to have our very own no-fly zone called the Superbowl. And the FAA has decreed that no training flights will be allowed out of PDK between January 29th and February 5th. In fact, they're going to shut down runways at PDK and start parking plants right on the runways. I will come out to the airport next Saturday Feb 4th just to see all the crazy traffic flying in, but if I wanted to avoid waiting three weeks to fly, I had to schedule something this weekend.

For #7 this morning I was back in the much newer Cessna 172 N704RB. Fuel injection, baby. Yeah. But 11 points where you have to check the fuel. Ah, the smell of avgas in the morning; I can't say I love it.

Today was a mixed bag. On the plus side, I did far better with the taxiing. I think I was over-controlling the aircraft Monday; today I managed to keep it until control, and I even did the takeoff. Today's destination: KLZU: Gwinnett County Briscoe Field, better known as Lawrenceville. The idea is once again to practice being in the pattern (1,000' above the field), turning base and final, and then coming in low over the field, working on my ability to keep the plane aligned with the runway while the wind tries to blow the plane sideways off the runway center line.

It was a beautiful day, but it was pretty bumpy up there. My instructor's advice: don't try to chase the altitude: every time you get bumped up above your altitude you're gonna get another one pushing you down. Just ride it out.

Lawrenceville is a towered airport with a single runway. With the Superbowl coming up, all of Atlanta and their ferrets were up and flying today. At one point we were 5th in line for landing. I even heard the tower say "The pattern is full." to one pilot. (No Ghostrider, though.)

My flying was spotty today; there were times where I not in full control of the aircraft. You could feel it. Steve was always ready to take over and did so at a few points.

On one of the trips around the pattern, I finally relaxed a little and had just my left hand on the control yoke instead of gripping it in both hands. "That's better!" said Steve. "You need your right hand free for other things." Like controlling the throttle. I am getting more confident with using the throttle. In a car, you're always using the throttle: stopping, going, slowing down, speeding up. In an airplane, you tend to keep a constant throttle except to go up or down.

So all in all, bit of a mixed day. Some things I'm doing ok at it; some things could be better.

But it's still really cool. I've been sitting here at the Downwind Restaurant overlooking the field writing. It must be busy out there; I've been hearing aircraft buzzing every few minutes. While I'm at the airport I'm still feel like a pilot. I think I'll go out with my radio and listen and watch for a little while longer before I go home and back to earth.

Postscript: I did go out and listen and watch. Just two months in, and I'm part of the club: I understand what I'm hearing. As I listen, I hear 704RB call Peachtree Tower, and I watch it land. There is a woman next to me taking pictures with a big Canon lens, and I want to say "704 Romeo Bravo! I flew that today!" But instead I watch it taxi back to the ramp and shut down.

Flying, man. Flying.

January 6, 2019

Flight Lesson #5

Lesson #5: 1/6/19. Cessna 172 "Nola" N703RB from Skybound Aviation. Last flight: 12/22.

I wanted to fly between Christmas and New Years, but the weather didn't cooperate. Today was beautiful, or as the automated information (ATIS) put it, "Winds 320' [~NW] at 8nm/hr, visiblity 10nm, temperature 15[C], dewpoint 3, visual approaches in use, Runway 3 right and 3 left. You have information November." (The information changes every so often, and every update gets a new letter: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.)

I spent money on two aviation things since my last lesson. I bought private pilot video course from King Schools with your hosts John and Martha King. Some people think the Kings are corny, but I'm a dad, so it works for me. The King Schools guarantee you will pass your FAA written exam or you'll get a full refund.

But the more fun thing is an Icom IC-A14 VHF Air Band transceiver - ie, a radio that tunes to the ground, tower, and automated weather frequencies that you need to use at a towered airport like PDK. The plane has radios, of course, but if you have your own radio, you can go out to the field and listen to the ground and tower personnel work with flights on the ground and in the air. Very fun. And you take it up in the plane, giving you a backup if the plane's radios go out.

I wasn't sure what to expect from today's lesson - more slow flight? More slips and stalls? Nope; said Steve, today we're going to practice emergency landings!

I haven't done any landings yet, emergency or otherwise, so this was new. And to do this, we flew up to Gainesville (aka KGVL), an "uncontrolled field" - one with no tower personnel - at Gainesville, aka KGVL, 39 miles to the NE of PDK.

In the end today was really just more about attempted landings than emergency landings. The emergency part turned out to being pulling the throttle back to idle a few times as we attempted to land. It turns out that a Cessna 172 glides pretty well, and doesn't feel at all out of control as it's sliding back down to the field with the engine throttled back.

We didn't actually do "full stop landings." Instead Steve demonstrated a few touch-and-gos, bringing the plane all the way down to touch on the runway and then throttling back up again for to takeoff.

We practiced using the traffic pattern for landing. You approach the field at pattern altitude, which is usually 1,000 feet above the field. (Gainesville is at 1,300', so you enter the pattern at 2,300'.) You fly parallel to the runway in the opposite direction from the direction you want to land, and about 1/2 - 1 mile away from the runway. This is known as your downwind leg, because usually you land into the wind (or up wind). Like most fields, Gainesville has a left-handed pattern, meaning you fly downwind past the end of the runway until you can see the runway behind you and to the left at about a 45' angle, and then you make a 90' turn to the left onto your base leg, and then finally you turn another 90' to the left to line up with the runway. You should be losing altitude as you make these turns, and if you've done it right, you want to be down to the altitude of the field just at the start of the runway.

It's hard to visualize. Google "airport traffic pattern" and you'll see what this looks like.

Today I didn't do the part where you make it all the way to the ground. Instead, I focused on trying to get down to the runway in an orderly fashion, and then trying to fly low over runway trying to keep the plane centered on the runway. That's a little tricky if there's any wind at all. As Steve said, if there were never any wind or just wind coming straight down the runway, all our landings would be fabulous, but that rarely happens. After flying low down over the runway, you throttle up, get back up to 500' below pattern altitude and make a 90' left turn to go around the pattern again.

So round and round we went - turn left, turn left, turn left, turn left - six passes over the runway in all, with Steve doing either two or three of them and me doing the balance. After that we made a beeline for PDK. I flew all the way back from Gainesville, getting it down to PDK's pattern altitude of 2000, getting it slowed down under Steve's direction, and sort of lined up with the runway. I was a bit off to the right, but Steve handled the last mile/minute of the flight and got us back on the ground safely.

Landing really is a whole bunch of things you have to do correctly. We're taking them a step at a time.

One interesting thing: as we're coming into Gainesville the first time, I noticed several birds ahead of us. And as we went around the field, several times there were more birds - including an entire flock of them under us. Birds! They're the real owners of the sky; we're lucky to get to share in their realm.