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April 8, 2019

Lesson # 10: Sat Mar 30 2019

Cessna 172 N73924 Daisy.

Back in lesson 6 my instructor told me that though I was doing ok in the air, but I was doing terrible on the ground, and I could not disagree. I just could not seem to get the hang of getting the airplane to turn the way I wanted while taxiing.

So today instead of calling ground to get a clearance to a runway, we told them we were headed for the northwest ramp. I added "for taxiing practice," but Steve said they didn't need that information: the ramp areas are outside of the controlled space on the airport, so by going up there and getting off the taxiways, we could do whatever we wanted. The NW ramp was big enough for us to taxi up and down and turn around.

And so over to the NW ramp we went. Among other things, I learned that the 172 turns much better with the judicious use of the brakes. If you want to make a tight left turn, you have to press down hard on the left rudder, but if you also lightly press your toe against the top of the left rudder, that brakes just the left wheel, and the airplane turns much more quickly.

Taxiing in the 172 is tiring work. I'm on the shorter side, and even with my seat scooted all the way forward it's a bit of stretch to push those rudder pedals all the way down. After 10-15 minutes of turning, stopping, and staying on track, we called for a clearance to runway 3R. More taxiing to get there. At the end Steve pronounced himself much happier with my ground work.

After takeoff we headed up north to do some coordinated turns: going left and then right and the left again so I could practice using my aileron and rudder together. After that, we headed back to PDK to do a couple of approaches in the pattern.

As we were coming back to PDK from the North, I noticed that it looked kind of .. hazy? Smoky? But shortly we realized just exactly what we were seeing: clouds of pollen; pollen in every direction. It was an astonishing sight. Steve took the first approach to show me what he wanted me to work on, and since he had the controls, I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures of the pollen, but what I managed to grab was not as impressive as what I saw as I was flying towards the field.

Before we went up, the winds were calm. But the winds built up after we took off, and when we got back to PDK the air was turbulent. Despite my practice with coordinating turns, I had trouble again keeping my turns coordinated as we went around the pattern. After we landed, Steve's advice was to try to ignore the turbulence: it pushes you around, but on balance the net effect is not much change. If you concentrate on making your turns as you would when the winds are calm, you'll do better.

The field was busy, and that interfered with my practice. I'm trying to get used to going around and doing the landing the same way every time, but there were lots of other planes trying to get in and out of PDK, so a couple of times we were asked to "extend our upwind" or "extend our downwind". That basically means that there's other traffic that the tower is trying to fit in, and they need us to stay out of the way. That's the tower's job, and they're keeping us safe, but it makes it hard for me to get that standard approach nailed down in my head.

On our last approach I was planning to try to take it all the way down to a landing, but when we got close to the runway, suddenly the Cessna heeled over into a 20' bank. Steve yelped "My airplane!" and got us down onto the ground. It happened so fast I wasn't even clear on what happened, but afterwards Steve said one of those 20kt gusts had pushed the wing over. Without quick action, we could have been in trouble. Steve said if I'd been in the airplane alone, the right action would have been to go to full power and go around. (I'm in no way ready for that yet.)

It was a challenging lesson; I was happy to get back on the ground. But I had one last success: I parked the plane at the ramp next to the other Skybound planes. It's the equivalent of parking a car in a parking space, and it was the first time I managed to do that. Huzzah!

A postscript: I like flying on Saturday mornings because afterwards I can go up to the Downwind restaurant at PDK and mentally come down from the flight over lunch. While I was there,my friend Jonathan texted me that his spouse and their 3 year old son were at PDK. I turned and found them waiting for a table, and I went over to chat for a few minutes. (Unfortunately, the 3 year old is just too young to be at all impressed that this guy standing here flies airplanes.)

On my way back to my table, I got another text: "Hey. Are you at PDK's Downwind Cafe? If you're not it's your twin." It was Joey, a guy I'd worked with ages ago at CNN. He was there with his entire family. After lunch they went down to the observation area to watch the planes, and I brought out my binoculars and my radio so we could listen to the ground and tower frequencies. Joey and his family had lots of questions, and I was delighted to be able to share my new-found knowledge. Aviation is full of intricate systems, and learning how everything works is one of my primary motivations for learning to fly. I've always been fascinated by everything to do with airplanes, and even though I'm still learning, I'm now part of that community. I love it!