I had a flight lesson today and it was the first time up since December 6th. I was home for much of December, and had visions of completing the next several flights from the curriculum, but weather intervened. It was just not good flying weather for several weeks in these parts. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been on the road quite a bit, so I was excited today to finally get back to the field and go up. Ceilings were too low for maneuvers, and that was just as well because it’s pattern work that I wanted to do to knock the rust off.
And there was some rust, as the below flight track shows. My takeoffs and landings were actually very solid, but the pattern itself was shaky at first. Those first two legs that are way out off track from the others were the first two laps, and after that I settled in. I flew an extended downwind, a turn-to-final, and a power-off landing in three of final four laps, which is why the base legs vary a bit.
So I feel back in the groove, and it’s amazing how relaxed I am after being up. Flying an airplane requires real focus, but it’s a focus that relaxes me, and I love it. Next flight will be a long cross country with my CFI: Brandywine to Harrisburg to Wilmington to Brandywine. We probably won’t get that on the books for a week or so, and I look forward to planning, simulating, and then making that flight.
The weather in my neck of the woods has been consistently bad, or at least bad enough, that night take offs and landings (which is my next real-world lesson) have been off the books from a safety perspective whenever we’ve tried to go up. It’s been about three weeks since my last flight, and I realized today that I should be working a bit harder to keep to my aviation studies. So I decided to load up the sim and fly the PilotEdge I-1 rating, which is the ILS 20R arrival into John Wayne / KSNA. I’ve already completed this training, but it was a while ago, and I thought some instrument practice today would be good for the brain.
Weather at KSN was VFR with broken clouds around 3,000, so I resolved to take off and then look only at the instruments until I was at 300 feet on final approach (the real-world minimum is 255). Things went fine, I showed up in front of the runway where I was supposed to be, and it felt remarkably like real-world hood work minus the G-forces. So this was good, it felt like practice, and I think I’ll start to pursue the PilotEdge I ratings in earnest as a way of keeping my head in the game until the weather improves. Next up is a short IFR flight from KSNA to KCRQ. Here’s the KSNA 20R ILS procedure for those who are curious.
That was the point of yesterday’s real world lesson. In ground reference maneuvers you learn to fly a consistent shape over the ground – circles, s-turns across a road, rectangles – as practice for keeping the airplane on a consistent ground track when flying the traffic pattern. We actually tackled this earlier in my training, but we didn’t really spend a lot of time on it so we used yesterday’s consistent easterly winds as a reason for a brush up. Which is good, because the last time I did these I was not so good at them.
The trick in these maneuvers is to vary your bank angle and heading in the air so you fly a consistent pattern over the ground. Think of it: if you fly in a circle with a steady wind from one direction, you will actually fly a spiral pattern as the wind blows you over the ground. So the key to flying a steady ground track is to bank steeply when you are with the wind and not as steeply when you are into it.
Here’s the track for part of yesterday’s flight, most of which was spent on a ground maneuver not surprisingly called “turns around a point.” There are a few “s-turns across a road” in there as well, as are the wind vectors (the thin yellow lines) which show the easterly wind. I did much better yesterday than a few months back. If you want to review the flight, follow this link.
You can practice these in the sim, too. I did some of that in this video, and may shoot another as well.
I was back in the real airplane today for the first time since November 14, thanks to a pattern of high winds that led to three cancelled flight lessons. But today was great for learning, with slight turbulence and crosswinds of about seven knots. The curriculum for today was to take off, climb to 2,500 feet, and then track the Modena VOR 350 radial like we were going somewhere. Then it was time for “hood work,” which means flying wearing Foggles, which are glasses that make it so you can only see the instruments and not outside the airplane (also called working “under the hood”). The plan was to practice some turns and climbs, slow flight, and a power-off stall under the hood, and then practice unusual attitude recoveries. To do the latter the CFI had me fly with my eyes closed until the plane was too far nose up, nose down, or banked, at which point he’d tell me to open my eyes, look at the instruments, and correct. Then we did more extreme attitude recoveries, in which the CFI took the controls and had me close my eyes and put my head down, at which point he got us into extreme banks, always with either a nose-up or nose-down attitude, at which point he’d tell me to open my eyes, look at the instruments, and correct.
Then we simulated what I’d do if I’d flown into instrument conditions as a low-hour pilot (and while still under the hood). First step was to call ATC to ask for advisories and vectors back to the field (and out of the imagined clouds). The instructor played ATC in this case, with me making the calls and him giving the directions. We managed to get back to the Modena VOR, which is about five miles from the home field, but not before I made the mistake of “reverse sensing,” meaning I was tracking the needle “OUT” rather than “IN,” which meant I kept flying away from rather than to the desired radial. This made the instructor very happy, as he did not need to artificially explain this navigation mistake. I was happy to have helped him out. Once we were at Modena I took off the Foggles and we entered the pattern for a crosswind landing (which went very well).
All in all it was excellent practice. The air was a bit turbulent, with up and down drafts testing my ability to keep a level altitude under the hood. I felt like I was working and learning the entire time, and I could tell it had been a while since the last lesson, but all the stuff that is supposed to be comfortable by this point (takeoff, slow flight, stall recovery, flying the pattern, radio work) was, and the crosswind landing was very solid. I was pleased, and I’m eager for the next lesson (set for next week, but with possible weather intervening).
Here is the CloudAhoy map of the flight. Follow this link to see the route and replay it if you’re interested in doing so.
Conditions for today’s lesson looked relatively benign, but don’t be fooled by the appearances.
While our winds on the field were 300 @ 6 knots, we quickly learned on takeoff that at about 200 feet they were cranking much, much stronger. I’m not sure how strong, but at 3,000 they were about 39 knots. This means we had a wind shear environment, and it made for some interesting flying. So much so that while the plane was bucking around on climb I told the instructor to take the plane. Once we made our crosswind turn, though, the air was a bit more stable if very windy and I asked to fly us in. Here’s the pattern and wind vectors.
My instinct at the numbers was to make an early turn to base, in part because I knew the headwind was going to push us away from the field, but mostly because I wanted a high approach with more cushion for a go-around. In a conversation afterward with the owner of the flight school he said this instinct was a good one: that a sudden downward shear, or a sudden drop in windspeed on an airplane trimmed for a true airspeed with a cranking headwind, would mean “sink” – and sink on short final is not good. He described it as “sobering … it’s like a dragon living in the basement that at any time can stick up it’s claw and get you.” I wasn’t afraid flying this pattern, and actually thought it was a great experience to have (especially with my instructor at my side). But it’s a reminder that wind can be just as troublesome as the clouds, and we correctly made the decision to head back to the barn after this one loop.
Our plan was to practice performance takeoffs and landings (short field and soft field). No way we were going to do this today, so down to the sim I shall go …
And I don’t just mean the powerful effect it has on women.
Today my real-world flight lessons cancelled for low ceilings. I used to stress about that, but now I know it’s just part of the process. But my routine for flight training is solid enough now that I just went down to the basement, fired up the sim, and flew what I would have likely flown today: departure with a downwind leg, fly out to the practice area, go into slow flight, maneuver, practice a power-off stall, practice a power-on stall, fly an engine-out procedure, do some steep turns, and then head back to the barn, enter the pattern, and land. I flew it all by the book from ramp to ramp, using the same checklist I’m using in the real bird. And because I ran with real-world weather, some of the flight was in the clouds so I got some instrument work as well. All told it felt like great practice, and like I was at least keeping current if in a virtual way.
One thing I learned today was about the flight model in the A2A Piper 28-180 Cherokee. I fly a PA 28-161 Cherokee Warrior II in the real world, and while the A2A is quite close, it is a bird with slightly different aerodynamics and 19 more horsepower. In slow flight in the real bird I cut the throttle to 1,500 RPM, put out all the flaps, pitch up to keep the bird at current altitude, and plug along around 53-55 knots.
Today in the sim I needed to run about 1,900 RPM to do the same thing. On my pattern work in the sim bird I’ve been cutting the throttle to 1,500 RPM, and I’ve often felt like the sink was too rapid. Today’s work pretty much confirms that, even though the Pilot’s Operating Handbook for the real 180 says the RPM should be 1,300-1,500, too. So there’s a bit of a variation in the flight model, but that’s fine. I’ll keep a bit more foot on the pedal on approach from now on in the sim.
So, in the end, I was disappointed not to get into the sky today, but not terribly so. And I felt like I still made progress on the process, which is a great thing in itself.
Today was flight lesson #18, and we used it to do more pattern work, spiced up with no-flaps landings (2), no-power landings (2), a short-field take off, and a soft-field take off. All of this was interesting and fun to fly, and I flew well. Well enough that when taxing back to the ramp at the end of the day my CFI said, “If you had your medical I’d solo you today.” I’m awaiting word on my medical, and may need an exemption, so I’m not allowed to fly solo until it comes through. While this has taken off the pressure of the “when will I solo” thing, it was great to hear today that my CFI believes I’m ready. So we’ll await word from the FAA, and in the meantime, keep plowing ahead on our curriculum.
Here’s today’s lesson in CloudAhoy in case you want to follow along in a virtual debrief. (Note that at this field we turn NW on takeoff for noise abatement.)
A really great lesson today in my real-world flight training. We had wonderful weather, cool and clear and sunny with winds around six knots, and we used it to do more pattern work. This included normal landings, two no-flap landings, and two power-off landings (which are the truncated approaches in the below image), as well as the normal landing back at my home field. Today felt great, and I think I flew well. The pattern work felt comfortable, and it included a fair amount of inbound traffic that involved radio work and one safety turn in the pattern. All told, I had a lot of fun. Click here to see the debrief on the flight via CloudAhoy.
Today in my real-world flight instruction we did pattern work. This was the second lesson in the past three days, and I have been very grateful to get some time in the airplane after logging a whopping two hours in August. I think I had six or seven lessons either scrub or need to be canceled on my part in the past month, and that was getting very frustrating for me. But that’s another post.
Two days ago we got back in the saddle with hood work, slow flight under the hood, a power-off stall and recovery, emergency procedure (engine out) and recovery, steep turns, and turns around a point. All was with some good winds, some bumps, and the need to dodge a cloud or two. Two days ago I flew very well, and that was very heartening as I was concerned I was getting too rust. Today we did pattern work, flying out to Chester County airport to take advantage of its 5,000 foot runway and more easy touch-and-gos. Overall I flew pretty well, or as my CFI described it, “not too bad.” I cannot wait for the day where landings feel natural, although I feel like I’m getting much better and thinking pitch for speed, and being comfortable flying the airplane downhill with the nose pointed down right up to the landing itself. I think I’ve spent far too much time (nearly 2,000,000 miles) in airliners sitting on a three-degree glide slope. But we’re getting there.
Here’s todays pattern work via my phone and the CloudAhoy service:
Chester has a local noise abatement procedure to turn to 260 degrees after takeoff, which is why you see the oddly-shaped crosswind leg. And that one long downwind was when we extended to get behind a Baron that was making a straight-in final approach. That was a good learning experience, as I in essence did the full descent procedure (which would normally occur downwind/base/final) just on final approach. Wins were a bit across from the WNW, so we did a pretty good job of flying a square pattern given that. The main critique from my CFI was to anticipate my turns better.
I flew this same lesson in the sim yesterday as preparation for today, using CloudAhoy connected to Prepar3d. It’s interesting to compare those patterns with the real-world ones from today:
In the sim I’m clearly flying far too wide of a pattern, and too long of a pattern. It’s hard to judge when you’re 45 degrees ahead of the field in the sim, but I need to turn sooner if I’m going to simulate strong pattern work.
After the pattern work it was back to the home field for landing, which was fine. I ballooned just a bit over the runway, but I’ll correct that with smaller movements on the elevator. Here’s the whole flight, and you can click this image to enlarge it: