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April 18, 2019

Lesson #11: Sun Apr 7 2019

Cessna 172 N73924 Daisy.

I've managed to keep up flying every weekend since I moved, and it's helping. I'm doing better, and I can tell that every time I fly.

Still, it's slow progress. The main thing that's improving is my confidence-at least in some areas. I'm no longer nervous when it comes to starting the engine and getting rolling. (Part of that is my new-found confidence in taxiing, which not that long ago was a serious problem for me.) Take-offs are also somewhat easier, despite the fact that I've practiced them much less than landings.

The most recent lessons have basically been the same: staying in the pattern at PDK, going around and around practicing approaches. I was going to say practicing landings, but we haven't got down the ground yet. Before we get to the ground, I have to be able to hold the aircraft straight down the runway in the presence of a crosswind.

After doing some deliberate ground practice in lesson 9, my taxiing is going much better. Steve was planning to have me do some more ground work at the end of this lesson, but my taxiing was good enough that we were able to skip the extra practice. I'm still moving slowly on the ground, but Steve made a point of saying I should taxi only as fast as I feel comfortable. If you need to go slow, go slow, because going slow gives you time to recover from any issues. Don't worry about anyone behind you.

My main problem this lesson was that I couldn't hear Steve in my headset when there was radio traffic. And there's always radio traffic when you're near the second busiest airport in Georgia. The result was that as we were getting down close to the runway, I could hear the tower fine, but not my instructor. That's worrisome.

One thing you learn about rental aircraft is that people fiddle with the settings. Someone had messed with the squelch settings on the passenger side, meaning Steve was hearing a persistent static. Once we landed we figured out that the volume from the passenger headset to me was turned way down. I'll know better in the future.

I'm still working on coordinating my turns, that is, pressing my feet down on the rudder pedals an appropriate amount as I turn the control yoke left and right. "An appropriate amount" is a vague phrase, and yet what needs to be done is precise in that you can feel when you've got it wrong. Remember learning to drive and how you had to feel your way through everything? Yeah, like that, but 1,000 feet in the air.

The basic idea is that you're going to be at 1,000 feet AGL (above ground level) when you're in your downwind leg going the opposite direction of the runway. Just as you pass the end of the runway out your window, you want to reduce speed and start losing altitude so that you eventually reach the runway. And you want to do this smoothly.

Actually getting yourself lined up with the runway is pretty doable - that's the left/right dimension as you approach. That's reasonably easy to see what you need to do.

You have two things you typically adjust to make sure you're on track for the runway. The first is your speed.

Steve likes to keep the speed at 70kts on final approach. He doesn't like to go down to 60-65kts until you're over the numbers that mark the end of the runway. The lower limit is the stall speed, which for the Cessna 172N is around 49kts. If you go slower than that, the airplane won't have enough lift to keep you in the air. But by the same token, you don't want to land fast. If you're fast, the plane will take longer to stop. That's not a huge deal on a long runway like PDK, but there will be times when you have to do a "short field landing". The second is more subtle: if the plane stops flying at stall speed, down at 49kts, then if you're faster that, the plane is still flying. That is, you'll put it down on the runway, but the plane is essentially weightless: it can bounce back up again. You can end up bouncing down the runway, and at some point, your propeller can end up hitting the runway and costing a lot of money.

So you use your pitch to control your speed. Going too fast? Pull back on the yoke to raise the nose a little. Too slow? Push forward a little.

Next, you use the throttle to control whether you go up or down. Generally on approach you're going to have the power "pulled back" -- the engine running at a slower speed - perhaps 1500-1700 RPM. If you look like you're not going to make it to the runway, push in the throttle a little and add some power. Cut the power a little more if you're too high or going to overshoot the runway.

And of course at any point you have the option to "go around" - push in the throttle to full power, bring the flaps back up.

And that was it for the flying. After we landed, we did an hour of ground instruction, going over everything again. Steve also handed me the "pre-solo written test," which fortunately is entirely open book. "Work on that this week, and we'll go over anything you got wrong next week."