Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Hood & One Wheel

Last night's lesson was mostly just Chris and I talking, but seeing as we weren't going for the cross country, that's fine. I've now got about 36.5 hours, so I'll definitely have the magic number of 40 soon. (For those who don't know, 40 is the legal minimum to take your test.)

When I first got there, Chris took me inside and pulled out a pile of papers. Each page was a lesson we were supposed to cover. He went through them one at a time: "steep turns, climbs, descents... done... practice area solo... done..." Twenty-two pages, and what we have left is: cross countries, night flight, foggle flight (more on this soon), a little more navigation and weather, and the respective solos. What caught most of my attention was Chris's comment: "You're almost done."

Today, Chris decided we were using the foggles. Foggles are these big sunglasses you wear that cover everything except the very bottom of your field of vision. When you're in a cockpit, the only thing you can see is the instruments, as if you'd flown into a cloud -- or fog. (Fog + goggles = foggles.) Chris doesn't like teaching this lesson since it makes you focus on flying "by the number," something he discourages for VFR flight. (After all, the V in VFR stands for Visual whereas the I in IFR stands for instrument.)

He also gave me tips on doing a checklist from memory: scan the panels in a clockwise fashion starting at 6 o'clock. this way you start by making sure the fuel switch is on (located on the floor between pilot seats), then make sure mixture and throttle are set properly (for whatever you're doing), carb heat, check the engine gauges to make sure there's no overheating or anything, then the key and master switch, the 6 main instruments, the radios, RPMs, circuit breakers and then flaps. All in all it looks like this:

[Click the image for full version.]

During take off he had me close my eyes and lean my head back to get a "tumbling sensation" so I could experience what it can feel like when you give it throttle through the clouds. I didn't get the sensation. "I never did either," Chris told me. Maybe it was a good sign.

After take off he had me put the foggles on and climb to 2500'. He'd keep an eye out for traffic. As soon as we got to almost that height I "lost my motor" (Chris pulled the throttle out).

"Uhh... can I take off the foggles?"
"Hahaha, yeah."
"That field."
"Ok, go for it."

I didn't set up my landing very well because Chris wanted me to do the "all around the cockpit" checklist. I managed to pick my field and perform that checklist while only losing 500' though. Even though I was too high coming in for my landing, Chris was happy with my efficiency. I probably could have landed in any of the fields surrounding the one I picked with my excess altitude, but "you never change fields." Makes sense, though in a real emergency if I found myself too high for one, you can bet I wouldn't nose-dive into it instead of just going for a better one.

We climbed back to altitude, then Chris had me put the foggles back on. "Give me an altitude of 2700' and a heading of 200." I did, though it was a little sloppy. "Ok, get down to 2500' and a heading of 270." Less sloppy. I asked Chris if I could turn the to heading, then lose altitude, but he said I should be doing both at the same time, then demonstrated:

He chose a heading (360) and an altitude (2300) and instead of simply banking and diving, he gave it a slight turn and pulled some power, using trim as needed. I didn't think about controlling climb/decent via power (which I should know by now), but the next two headings he gave me after that were much better.

"Ok, now close your eyes completely. We're going to do unusual attitudes."

This is the fun part. I close my eyes and Chris turns the plane into a roller-coaster for a few seconds, then had me open my eyes (this time seeing only the instrument panel) and correct any problems. The first time we were in a very steep right bank pitched way too high. I corrected it and leveled the plane. The attitude indicator has a little orange airplane in it, with a blue sky and brown ground, which helps a LOT for this exercise. Chris performed one more (shallow left bank, diving towards the ground). I fixed this one even better, and Chris was satisfied.

Chris made me fly back with the foggles on, giving me altitudes and headings while he did radios and looked for traffic. It was easy enough, and I probably could have done radios myself, but I wasn't going to object. (There's an instrument by the radios in our 152 that tells you how many miles and at what heading you are from any airport you tune into, which would make it easy to tell the tower how far out you are while wearing foggles.) Upon entering the traffic pattern he had me remove the foggles and proposed a new game for us to play, and compete against each other. No matter what it was, I knew I was going to lose.

"I'm going to do the first landing, then you're going to do exactly what I do, OK?"
"I'll do my best."

Chris comes in for the landing, gentle and smooth, but VERY fast and touches down on JUST the right wheel, rolling most of the way before the left and finally nose-wheel also touched down. He handed me the controls to complete the touch-and-go. I was impressed, but confused.

"I don't have to land on one wheel, do I?" I asked. Stupid question.
"Of course! I said you had to do it exactly how I did."
"Well, I'll try. Just save us if you need to."

We flew the pattern (Chris still on radios) and were coming in for a full-stop. I started high, but Chris had me pitch the nose down. I would have liked to keep the altitude until I was closer to the runway, but Chris is the boss. Coming in to land I was much slower than Chris -- about normal landing speed. I banked shallow to the right (not as steep as his) and felt the right wheel touch. I held it for maybe a second before the left wheel touched-down too. I tried to get it back up so I was just on the one, but I didn't have the speed. Finally, at the last second, I let the nose-wheel touch.

Chris told me what I already knew: "you weren't going fast enough to ride the one wheel."
"I did get the right wheel down first though." It was a small victory, but I was glad to take it.
"Yeah, but I did it longer, so that one's my point."

When we got back Chris and I talked more about what we had left. He said we'd continue that game, eventually getting to hop from one wheel to the other -- back and forth -- until we landed. At first I wasn't sure I liked that idea, but then I realized how good that would make me at landings. If I can make the plane dance on my landings, touching down two-wheels when I'm solo (or with passengers) would be a walk in the park.

It was nearly 9, and we'd only flown for 0.8 hours, but it was good to lay out what we had left. My next lesson is tonight (Thursday), then hopefully next week we're going to finally go to Grotton, then I'll go solo.

I can't wait!

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