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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.