« Lesson #21: Sunday Aug 3 2019 | Home | Lesson #23: Sunday August 18, 2019 »

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.”