August 2019 Archives

August 30, 2019

Lesson #23: Sunday August 18, 2019

With this lesson I’m up to 25.3 hours of flight time. It sounds like both a lot and a little. I wonder how many hours of driving instruction I had before I got my license? More or less? Presumably more; I got my license in the late 70s in California: my high school offered both driver’s ed (classroom) and driver’s training (in the car).

When I went to book the lesson, my usual airplane N73924 already booked, so I scheduled N704RB. Saturday night I got an email with subject “Alert regarding your schedule for 704RB” and the text “front nose wheel is flat.” What?!

I didn’t get an email saying that the flight was cancelled, so I went out to the field Sunday morning wondering if I’d be able to fly. Sure enough, Romeo Bravo still had a flat tire. The pilot who’d been in the plane the day before was in the Skybound office, and he reported it popped on landing. Goodness! (It turned out to be a bad tube: no fault of the pilot.) Cessna 172 popped tire

Fortunately, whomever had reserved 73924 cancelled their flight. Good! I had an airplane.

We’re still down to one open runway at PDK: 21L. Last time that wasn’t too hard to deal with, but this time the closure bit us.

The business jets taxi down to the end of 21L taking off towards the south, which gives them a full 6,000’ to take off. Peachtree Ground instead directed us to hold short of 21L at taxiway Golf, which was nearly halfway down the runway. Entering the runway at Golf gives us 3,746’, which is the same as 21R. Plenty of room for a Cessna 172.

So we taxi out and hold short of 21L on Golf, waiting our turn. There are two aircraft four tenths of a mile to our left on taxiway Alpha; presumably they’re ahead of us. So we wait.

And wait. I’m not sure how many aircraft went ahead of us—I think there were 3 down at Alpha that took off ahead of us, and maybe another 3 that landed before us. All in all I think we waited at least 10 minutes if not more. That’s not typical at all at PDK; when there are two runways available, we typically get on the runway after no more than 2–3 minutes, and any wait is usually waiting for an aircraft to land. (Landing aircraft get priority over aircraft taking off.) The meter was running for both the airplane and the instructor at $4.34 a minute so it was an expensive delay.

We thought about flying out to Lawrenceville again, but given that getting there and back would consume 40 minutes, we decided to take our chances and stay in the pattern at PDK.

It turned out to be a reasonable decision. Once we got off the ground, we had no trouble fitting six approaches in during the lesson.

Steve wanted me to practice using side-slips, which I will need to stay lined up with the runway when there’s a cross-wind. The problem with practicing anything you do right as you touch down is the you only get a few seconds of practice on each approach. To give me more time, instead of going all the way to down to the runway, Steve set me up so that we were stable about 30–50’ above the runway. Steve had me fly down over the runway, first slipping to the left (which I’d need to do if there was a cross-wind coming from the left), and then to the right. The back-and-forth movement is done by turning the yoke slightly to the left and right, and then using the opposite rudder pedal to keep the plane flying straight. Turns out you need a lot of rudder to do that. Push it! I did a couple of a couple of approaches above the runway slipping back and forth, and then switched to touch-and-go landings.

I’m now mostly consistent at getting from 1,000’ above the field heading downwind, then turning base then final and getting down to the runway at about the right point. But as I have for months, I’m still having trouble with that last 50 feet. (And I’m still not remembering to look out my left window when I get close to the runway.) So my first touch-and-go was not good.

My second touch-and-go landing was better. Not great, but acceptable. Acceptable is my actual goal: once I get to the point where every landing is acceptable, I’l be ready to solo.

On the last approach Tower I went for a full-stop landing, which is exactly what it sounds like: instead taking the airplane up and around another time after touching down, you slow down and get off the runway. As I was slowing down Peachtree Tower called and asked me to get off at taxiway Charlie. But Charlie is also where my runway 21L is crossed by another runway—16/34. Instead of taking a 90’ turn onto Charlie, I accidentally started making a 130’ turn onto runway 34. Just as I was doing so, Tower called and said, “If you want to go down 34, that’s ok too.” Basically, they were turning my mistake into a legitimate turn by giving me permission. The folks in the Tower at PDK know they’re dealing with a lot of students. Nice, patient people.

August 24, 2019

Lesson #22: Sunday August 11 2019

I’m still working on landings. I’d like to be able to say something like “I’ve turned a corner” or “Now things are better”—but I believe I’m just in the slow lane. Even in the slow lane, as long as you’re moving, you’re going to get someplace. (In my case, hopefully I’ll get to the ground in one piece.)

Every week there’s something a little different to deal with at the airport. This week the usual runway used by smaller airplanes was closed down for maintenance—Runway 21R/3L. That fact means that instead of having two runways for traffic—one for small aircraft like the Cessna 172 and a longer one for higher-performance aircraft—we were down to one runway.

Steve decided that instead of flying in a potentially crowded pattern at PDK, we should fly over to KLZU: Gwinnett County field in Lawrenceville. LZU only has one runway, but they don’t have the business jet traffic.

That meant when I got the to airport I had to plan a cross-country flight. Granted, since LZU is only 19nm from PDK, that’s a short cross-country flight, but that actually makes it more challenging.

LZU is a towered field, meaning you have to talk to a controller at the tower before you enter their airspace (5nm around the field), and you also have to get the ATIS information-weather and so forth—while you’re in the air.

So that led to a little research on LZU that I wrote down in my notebook. LZU ATIS frequency: 132.275. LZU Tower: 124.1. LZU field elevation: 1,062ft MSL, pattern at 2,101 MSL, or just a little higher than PDK which is at 998 ft MSL and 1,098ft pattern altitude.

Taxiing out was a little different from usual. Even though runway 21R was closed to landing traffic, the taxi route out to get out to 3R took us down runway 21R. I had to get out the airport diagram to review it before I headed out. Steve told me that if I wanted, I could ask Peachtree Ground for “progressive taxi” instructions, meaning they would watch my progress across the field and give me the next turn as needed. I didn’t ask for it, but Ground at one point Ground still called me to remind me to turn.

Steve also had me dial in LZU into the Garmin 430. The 430 combines radios—the ones I use to talk to the ground— and GPS navigation. It’s been around for decades and is pretty standard in small aircraft. You might have seen the pictures of small airplanes with “glass cockpits” with iPad-sized screens. The 430 isn’t that: it’s got a 4" screen—732 pixels wide by 240 pixels high.

Until now, I’ve only used the 430’s radios. But it also has a GPS with a database of airports. Once I dialed in LZU, the 430 showed many miles we were from LZU, our current course, and what direction I needed to steer to head towards LZU. Very useful, but far less capable than any of the apps you can get on phones and tablets. (I pay for Foreflight, but I haven’t used it in the air yet.)

We took off on 21R and turned west. The first thing we needed was the LZU ATIS. I switched the frequency and laboriously copied down the weather, runway information, and altimeter setting. While I was doing that, the airplane started to wander off course, but fortunately Steve made some adjustments to keep us from too far off.

At this point we were already only 10 miles from LZU, so I switched the radio over to LZU tower and called them up. They gave us a straight in approach to runway 07.

My radio work (talking to Ground and Tower) is usually pretty good, but today it was not so good. Lots of fumbling for what I wanted to say and missing things. That’s a classic sign that I was getting “task saturated,” which is what they call it in the aviation world when your head is completely full. (CFI Jason Miller of The Finer Points podcast has said he’s seen students get so task saturated that you could ask “What’s your name?” and they’d reply “Standby.”)

We did three touch-and-go landings at LZU. One difference from PDK: since LZU has only a single runway, in order to help manage the traffic going around the field, Tower specified “Right closed traffic” or “Left closed traffic,” when clearing us for each approach, indicating which way they wanted us to turn after lifting off from the runway.

On average, my landings are getting better. One or two of the touch and go landings were “acceptable” in Steve’s words.

There’s one thing I’m still not doing at all. Steve advised me that when I get close to the ground, I need to start looking out my left window. When you get close to the ground, the nose the aircraft is higher and you can’t see over it. (You always want to touch down first on your rear wheels, then lower the nose gear.) If you look out the left window, you can see how high you are and whether you’re centered over the runway. But I keep forgetting to do that, and so I lose track of how high I am as I get down near the runway.

I’ve driven out to LZU a few times now for the monthly EAA breakfasts. I know where the EAA hanger is. But since I haven’t actually landed at LZU and taxied around, my mental model of the airport is incomplete. The place where I did touch-and-go landings and the place where I get breakfast once a month are different places in my head. Flying to or over someplace has no relation in my head to driving there.

Every once in a while I stop and marvel at this business of learning to fly. An hour after I got back home to Kelly, out of the blue I said “Hey. I was just up there.” “Up where?”. “Up there.” “Ohhh. Got it.”

August 13, 2019

Lesson #21: Sunday Aug 3 2019

I'm remiss in writing these reports. My last one was for lesson #18 on July 7th, but since then I've flown 3 more lessons, with the most one being lesson #21 on Sunday, August 3rd 2019.

There's a simple explanation. I've been flying the same lesson over and over. When people ask how I'm doing, I say "I'm still trying to learn how to land." That's true, but putting it that way short-changes my progress. It would be more accurate to say I'm trying to learn how to handle the last 15 seconds of the landing. Learning to land is the hardest thing you do when you're learning to fly because there are so many parts to it. I've written many times before about these various parts.

Lesson #18 on July 7th was probably my low point. I'd spent weeks not even touching the ground, and once I did start actually bringing the airplane all the way down the runway, it was pretty rough. It's actually still pretty rough, but the difference the last three lessons have made is that I'm starting to dial in the other parts.

For me, the landing really starts when you're heading downwind in the opposite direction from the runway and you're "abeam the numbers" when you pass the end of the runway where you intend to touch down. At this point you're 1,000 feet above the runway going about 110kts. In the next couple of minutes you want to get the airplane down to about 40kts inches above the runway. The goal is to standardize how you do this—basically, do it more or less the same way every time. I'm not there yet, but every lesson I've been getting a little better. I still don't know how to handle crosswinds, but as luck would have it my last three lessons have had very little wind to work about.

I'm really starting to get a feel for how to control the pitch and the power to bleed off that energy. Abeam the numbers: pull out the carb heat control, which cuts the power by about 20hp. Cut the power from 2300-2500rpm down to 1700. Get the speed down to flaps range, which is 85 knots. Once you're at that point, put in the first 10° of flaps.

And so forth. I've written about the sequence a few times - [lesson 9], [lesson 14], and [lesson 18] among others. I'm starting to get a feeling for whether I'm too high or too low. I'm getting better about monitoring my speed, which is arguably the most important single thing you need to manage on the way down.

So let's talk about lesson 21. How did it actually go?

The weather was iffy. There was rain in the area, but the airport was still VFR; the rain was perhaps 10 miles to the north. You've probably seen photos of rain coming over the desert; it looked something like that from 1,000 feet up. You could tell where it was.

Before we went up, Steve wanted me to notice something about the wind. Wind 200 at 8 knots with runway 21L and 21R in use. I started up the Foreflight app on my phone to get a feeling for which way that was. Wait—we're landing on a runway with a compass heading of 210—roughly North to South, and the wind is out of 200—that's a tailwind!

Conventional wisdom is that you never want to land or take off with a tailwind. A tailwind means you go further down the runway on takeoff, and when you're approaching the runway on a landing, the ground comes up at you a little faster. Not good!

Normally the tower will "turn the airport around" when the wind direction changes—they'll tell aircraft to takeoff and land in opposite direction. Steve's explanation for why they hadn't done that was first that the wind was still relatively low, and more importantly, PDK really likes to try to keep the ILS approach available, and that's only on 21L. (ILS is a system for precisely landing an airplane; the business jets that typically come on the longer runway like to use ILS.)

Despite what I said about being able to control the approach, the first time around I was much too high and not getting down. We executed a go-around —fly above the runway and get the plane back into climbing and cruise configuration: carb heat back in, flaps up in stages, full power.

I don't remember the exact sequence of the next 4-5 landings; I don't even remember the exact number of landings.

I do know on one of them I fell prey to the pattern I'm still trying to get out of: not flying the plane all the way down to the runway and stalling while I'm still 20'+ in air. "Jesus!" Steve exclaimed and struggled to keep us from going splat. That was the low point for this lesson.

The final landing—a "full stop"—was pretty bad. I think I bounced the airplane.

But on one landing, Steve said "That was acceptable!" And that felt pretty damned good.

Landing an airplane is the hardest thing I've tried to learn in my adult life. My progress is measured in chunks of perhaps 50 minutes in the air at a cost of $275-$335 per lesson. My log records that I've had 22.9 hours of dual instruction. 21 lessons, 8 months, something over $5,000.

August 3, 2019

Lesson #18: Sunday July 7th 2019

Despite the fact that I few last week, I still have flown relatively little over the last month, and today it caught up with me.

We spent the entire lesson in the pattern at PDK practicing my approach and landing skills. It's fair to say that my skills are weak.

The best part of the lesson was actually after the landing when we talked about what I was doing wrong.

Steve says I'm "ground shy," by which he means that I tend to want land about 20 feet above the actual runway. That's 20 feet too high.

Going and back and reviewing Rod Machado's How To Fly an Airplane Handbook , I realize I've been neglecting some of the basic steps.

The first thing I've been forgetting about is the relationship between pitch and power. You control your airspeed with the pitch of the airplane, which is controlled by the yoke. Push the yoke forward, the airplane pitches down, and you go faster. Pull back, the airplane pitches up, and you go slower. After that, you control your vertical speed with the thottle. Going down too fast--increase the power, which will slow the descent.

Steve says I use the throttle too much when I'm coming in on final approach. I'll be coming down at an appropriate rate, but I'll think I'm coming down too fast, and I'll increase the throttle to slow my descent. However--and this is the part that I missed--whenever I change the throttle, I need to also move the yoke to maintain my speed. Power and pitch are intimately related. Increase the power, and that has a tendency to push the nose up a little, an if you do that, your speed decreases. The thing Steve harps on the most with me is keeping my approach speed at 80 knots before I get on final approach. (It's ok to be at 70 kts once you get on final approach.) That's faster than most people go on the approach, but Steve's reasoning is that you don't want to get too close to stalling, and further, the slower you go, the less responsive the airplane is to the controls. (Less air moving over the flight surfaces means the airplane is slower to respond.) So when I get worried I'm slow and increase the throttle, and don't adjust my pitch, all of sudden I'm dropped below 80kts.

By the same token, if I'm high and cut the power, my nose will drop unless I compensate and now I'll be going too fast. Landing is all about energy management: you want to bleed off all the energy it takes to keep flying when you're just inches above the runway.

That "inches above the runway" part gets at another thing I've been missing. Landing is a series of different steps. On the downwind leg--going in the opposite direction of the runway--you're 1,000 field above the runway going 90-100 kts. Once you get opposite your landing point going the other direction--or, as it's known, when you're "abeam the numbers" (the numbers at the very end of the runway), you cut your power and start descending. As you make your turn to base, you should have lost ~200' and be at 80 kts. When you turn final, you should have lost another 200'--so now you're at 600' and doing 70 kts. Now hopefully you're on a stable approach towards the near end of the runway. Just as you get over the end of the runway, you can let the speed come down. You then want to get to the where you arrest your descent just foot or so off the runway. This is called the round out. Once you're at this point, you can start raising the nose, and at the point you're in the flare. The idea is to keep raising the nose until the airplane slows down to stall speed, and the airplane touches the runway below stall speed. See? Nothing to it.

I'll keep at it.