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February 10, 2019

Lesson 8: Sat Feb 9, 2019

Atlanta was invaded by the Super Bowl in early February. The ground invasion was more visible, but the effects extended to the Atlanta airspace as well. The FAA banned all flight training within 30+ miles of Atlanta from Tuesday Jan 29 until the following Tuesday Feb 5. I went out to PDK on that first Tuesday, and the flight ramp where Skybound parks it’s airplanes was completely empty. By the end of the week PDK had shutdown 2 of the 3 runways; traffic was only coming in and out on 3L/21R. The other two runways were full of expensive business jets. My instructor Steve noted there was probably a billion dollars worth of aircraft parked out there. It’s plausible: even that early there were 5 Gulfstream 550s on one of the runways. Google says those go for over 50 million. Oddly, there was less to see for visitors: fewer takeoffs and landings than normal. But this weekend PDK was back to business as usual.

Today we didn’t even leave PDK. It’s a day of “closed pattern work” -- taking off via 3L, at 700’ AGL turn left into the crosswind leg, then into the base leg, then turn final and back down to the field. Once again we’re flying “low and slow” -- not landing, but down close to the runway, just like we did in lesson 5 and lesson 6.

I’m back in 73924. The last time I was in 924 I could not keep it under control on the ground. I did better in the newer plane in lesson 7, so I was curious to see how I would do this time in the older plane. I did pretty well taxiing from the Skybound ramp, right turn on taxiway Alpha, then almost immediately a slight right turn on taxiway Bravo. But there were still some hiccups where Steve had to take over.

We’re in the run-up area just off 3L where we do final checks before takeoff. Peachtree ground clears us to taxi the short distance to 3L. I switch the radio over to the tower frequency and gingerly move out of the run-up area. Don’t get too close to that jet which is taxiing across 3L to take off on 3R. The jet throttles up as it is cleared onto 3R, and our control yoke moves back towards me on it’s own from the force of the jet’s blast.

We’re holding short of 3L waiting for inbound traffic to land. There it is ... it comes by us, but we’re still waiting. I saw it looked like it was going around, but now I can’t see it ...? Just wait.

“Cessna 73934, cleared for takeoff on 3 left.” Oh crap: showtime!

Left hand on the yoke, right hand on the throttle. Turn left onto the runway. I’m a little too far to the right, so line it up with the rudder pedals -- now we’re centered -- push the throttle in full. The torque of the propeller is trying to push us to the left of the runway, so push in on the right rudder pedal. We’re moving faster, faster ... 60 knots comes quick. Pull back on the yoke ... goodness, that’s a squirrelly takeoff, but we’re up. Don’t worry about how much to pitch up: try to make 79 knots. Too slow? Put the nose down a little. Too fast? Pull the nose up. We’re staying in the pattern to practice, so at 700’ above the ground, we start a 90’ left turn on our crosswind leg.

Today I’m in somewhat better overall control of the airplane in the air, but I still have problems. “You’re driving the airplane, not flying,” says Steve, meaning I forget to use the rudder pedals when I turn the yoke. If you don’t use the rudder pedals, your turns are uncoordinated, mushy. The airplane will turn, but it’s poor airmanship. We are pilots and can do better. (I’m not alone; it’s a very common problem among student pilots.)

Back when were initially practicing bigger slower turns, it was easier to remember to use the rudder: turn the yoke left, and push the left rudder pedal at the same time. When you’re banked into the turn sufficiently, bring the controls back to neutral until it’s time to move the yoke and rudder in the opposite direction. But in the pattern I’m having to make many small corrections to our direction. I’m using the yoke, but just about every time I’m forgetting the rudder. Or perhaps I’m even moving the rudder in the wrong direction? I’m not sure. We’ve been practicing slips down over the runway, and in a slip you move the rudder the opposite direction to the ailerons. I think that’s been messing with my memory of how to do a coordinated turn.

We’re in the downwind leg with the airport off to our left. We’ve reached our pattern altitude of 2,000’, 1,000 field above the field, so we bring the throttle back from 100%. Watch for the traffic in front of us -- there it is. It’s another Cessna. Peachtree tower tells us we’re #2 to land.

Normally if there’s no traffic you’re supposed to continue in your downwind leg until you can look back and see the end of the runway at a 45’ angle over your shoulder. But most of the time at PDK you’re at the mercy of the airplane ahead of you. You don’t want to overtake them.

We’re now abeam the end of the runway. Throttle back to 1700 RPM, get the speed down to 90kts, and move the lever to bring in 10’ of flaps. Watch it, the plane wants to balloon up when the flaps come in. Steve says the first 10’ of flaps add the most lift; the remaining increments (20‘, 30’) mostly add drag to bring the airplane down faster.

Time to turn base - 90’ left again until you’re flying perpendicular to the end of the runway. Throttle back to 1500 and bring in 20’ of flaps. Steve is handling the throttle for me at this point so I can concentrate on my approach. He turns on the carburetor heat which drops the power a little. Carb heat prevents carburetor icing.

There’s a building south of PDK that looks like a black triangle. Steve tells me it’s a useful landmark to tell me when I should turn final and head for the runway. (I look it up later; it’s the GA Dept of Revenue building just off Century Blvd, 1.6 miles from the end of the runway.) I turn. Steve brings the throttle down more and puts in 30’ of flaps. We’re now doing about 60 knots, right were we should be.

We’re not that high at this point; maybe 300’ AGL and coming down. I’m pointed a little to the right of the runway heading and need to turn left a little more to line up properly with the runway.

We don’t want to touch down; once again we’re just practicing slips over the runway. Right aileron to slide right a little, lots of left rudder to hold the plane straight. Now a left slip - left aileron, right rudder.

All too soon it’s time to go up and around again. Throttle full forward, carb heat off, bring flaps back up in stages. Establish best rate of climb at 79 knots.


I have no idea exactly how many circuits we made around the pattern, but I’m guessing about 10 minutes per time, so probably 6 times around the pattern before we land. Today we’re actually back 45 minutes before the next flight, so Steve and I have some time to talk about what I didn’t do right. It’s clear I’m suffering from flying only every two weeks. Every thing I’ve read recommends you fly more frequently, and now I really start to see why: every lesson I have to relearn something of what I did before. But until we move into the new house in March, I want to keep my cash flow under control.

I’m now at 9.1 hours. I’m not really satisfied with my progress; before every lesson I’m pretty nervous, and I’m not fully in control of any aspect of my flying. Before Steve can sign me off to solo, he has to be confident that I’m safe to take the airplane out by myself, communicate on the radio while flying the plane, and get myself back safely. I’m not close to that goal.

On the other hand, not counting the first demo flight, I’ve had 7 lessons over 2 months. On Thanksgiving Day the world over the fence at PDK was foreign; now it’s becoming familiar. Flying is challenging, and I’m not used to anything being this difficult. Less than three months later, I’m on the other side of the fence and gaining altitude.