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July 9, 2019

Lesson #17: Saturday, June 29th 2019

A combination of circumstances kept me out of the air for four weeks. One of the weeks my flight instructor was on vacation. I scheduled a lesson with another instructor, but the weather didn't cooperate. The last two weekends I had to work Saturday mornings which forced me to cancel lessons. But I finally made it back into the air at the end of June.

Four weeks is my longest layoff since I started. Previously I'd had a three week layoff, and my first lesson after that was pretty rough. But this lesson went smoother than I anticipated.

Since I had been on the ground for a month, Steve had me leave PDK for some turn coordination work. There were broken clouds around the field and towards the north, so we climbed up to 5,500' to get over them. Steve wants to be more than 10 miles from PDK before we start practicing. (When you're inbound back to PDK, we call the field when we get 10 miles out.)

We started with 30° bank turns. 30° is a pretty standard turn: not too steep, not too shallow. 30° turn to the left, then immediately roll into a 30° to the right, then back to the left, and so forth.

Next we moved up to 45°. As a passenger, 45° would feel like a steep turn. A 45° turn is tricker to execute. As you pass 30° bank, the aircraft loses lift, and if you don't compensate, you'll lose altitude. So as you pass 30°, you need to pull back on the yoke. Further, the aircraft really doesn't want to stay at that steep a bank angle, so you have to keep goosing it around to stay at that angle. As you turn back the opposite direction, you keep the back pressure on the yoke until you get back to 30°, then let the back pressure off until you get past 30° bank in the opposite direction.

The best way to do this is to keep your eyes outside the aircraft. It's pretty easy to tell if you're at 45° bank; you can tell that by eyeballing the horizon vs your windshield. And you can tell if you're going up or down by watching the horizon line off in the distance. The goal is to keep your eyes outside 90% of the time, glancing back inside occasionally to double check your altitude and direction.

Next we do 360° turns at a 45° bank angle. I talk my way through it: "Not steep enough, not steep enough, more, more, raise the nose a little, keep it going, keep it going .. coming up on 210, rolling out."

Coordination work is fun. I remember when I was 10 years old I had a the coolest bike - a Schwinn Stringray with a banana seat. I loved to swoop back and forth on the playground - big, sweep turns - left, right, left, right. That's what it reminded me of, but at 5,500 feet.

We also practiced forward slips. The forward slip uses opposite rudder and aileron to lose altitude without increasing speed. Normally you keep your aileron and rudder use coordinated (as in coordinated turns.) To turn left, turn the yoke towards the left and use the left rudder pedal. The forward slip is full right rudder and enough left (opposite) aileron to keep the airplane going straight. Done correctly, instead of the normal 500' per minute descent, you'll end up losing altitude at twice that rate.

After working on slips we headed back to PDK for a couple of practice landings. My first attempt made clear the cost of missing 4 weeks: I was way too high on final approach. Steve took over the aircraft, executed a forward slip to lose altitude, touched down, and then powered up to go around again.

My second time was better. One of the keys to a good approach is to control your speed. You control your speed with your pitch angle. Your pitch is controlled by pushing or pulling on the yoke. Going too fast: pull back on the yoke slightly to slow down. Too slow: push forward to gain some speed. Steve wants to see a consistent 70 knots on base and final legs. Too slow is worse than too fast, because if you get too slow, the plane will stall, and when you're down so low, you might not have enough altitude to recover from the stall. (Stalling speed on the Cessna 172 is somewhere down between 41-47 knots, so 70 gives you some room.) On my second approach I was right on 70 knots on my base and final legs. My altitude was still not quite right, so I was working the throttle. With some help from Steve I manage to flare it and get it on the ground. Unfortunately Peachtree Tower told us to make an early turn-off to clear the runway for other traffic, so I didn't get to handle it all the way down the runway, but it was a landing.

Even when I'm not flying, I still think about it. A few weeks back I had a routine medical procedure. I was on my back in a paper gown waiting for the doctor to see me. No phone, nothing to read, no one to talk to, so I decided to mentally fly a lesson. Preflight the plane. Get in the cockpit and go through the engine start procedure. Call Peachtree Ground and get cleared to taxi. Take off, make a left closed traffic turn at 700' AGL-

Right about here the doctor came in to talk to me and then went away-

-turn downwind, throttle back, left base turn, left final turn, and back onto the runway. My mental flight took a good 20+ minutes, and nobody even noticed that I was gone.