Friday, July 11, 2008

Learning from Mistakes

So my lesson last night was great. The tempature drop, the clear sky and the lack of humidity made for a much smoother time in the air. I got to the airport, preflighted, then talked with Chris about cross countries, the flgiht plan to Grotton I made, etc. Then, we got to the good stuff.

Taxi out, run up and take-off were all just fine. I wasn't perfect on the radios but I wasn't too bad, and the climb out was also iffy. I should have lowered the nose after I got off the ground to gain some airspeed instead of going straight into a 10 degree climb, but at Oxford the runway's so long it wasn't a serious mistake.

While we were in the air, Chris started asking me questions, like "where are we?" and "how long should it have taken us to get here?" and "how long did it take us to get here?" and "write down notes about your mistakes on your flight plan to correct for them later." It was overwhelming, but he got the message across with his next question: "did you see that plane we almost hit?" THAT will get your attention! What plane where? Sure enough, 500' under my left wing there was a plane heading in the opposite direction. Shit! Of course, 500' is no where near hitting, but that's something I should have caught. Chris asked me "what does this teach you?" I replied "there's a lot of stuff to focus on during a cross country and most of it is pretty important." I was right. Somehow I missed another plane which flew over our left wing by about 700'. I was spending too much time looking at the ground: mistake #1.

Flying East towards Grotton at 7pm the sun is setting behind me and giving a clear visual of the rivers and cities up ahead. Chris had warned me that he'd probably be doing diversions to New Haven and Danbury (south and southwest of Oxford; both towered airports), but almost as soon as Grotton was in sight he told me to divert to Goodspeed. I checked my sectional: southeast of my current position, right along the east side of the river. Very small. Shouldn't be too hard, I thought. I'll just fly along the river and look below me. After a while of guessing (wrong) as to where the airport was I did a 180 and finally saw it. I flew right over it! Not a serious mistake, since I was clearly well above it (Chris did radio "Goodspeed traffic, Cessna in the area, Goodspeed traffic"), but still kind of stupid. The runway (2100' on the sectional, but 1700' usable, per Chris) was so small it hid behind the trees.

Once I had it in view for some reason I totally forgot about traffic patterns and decided to decend. Chris pointed out that I was a dumbass (kindly) and I got further away from the airport before losing more altitude. There wasn't another plane in sight, so I wasn't too concerned, but that I messed up something that simple wasn't something I was proud of. Mistake #2.

Once the altitude was at 1000' (Goodspeed's elevation is 9' -- yes, nine feet) I entered the pattern and set up for landing. Chris told me what to say on the radios, since I have minimal experience at non-towered airports, but considering my lack of experience I wasn't too bad. I came in very high for the landing, but lost my altitude (and airspeed) at a good rate. I was quite confident I would be able to land without problem and I'd do it smoothly. My flair was looking great when Chris said "go around."

Now normally "go around" is a simple procedure: full throttle, carb heat in, 1 notch of flaps up (2nd and 3rd notch after the previous ones have cleared to make it smooth). I, however, fucked this up wildly. First, let me divert with a description of Goodspeed...

Goodspeed is right on the water. I mean RIGHT on the water. In fact, it's got water on both ends of the lone runway. Runway 32 (the one I opted to land on) starts just over a pond and ends just before the Connecticut River. Runway 14 is of course the opposite. But the water isn't the scarey part - oh no. That would be saved for the draw-bridge about 1000' up the river front Goodspeed. So if you were to take off (or, say, do a go-around) from Runway 32, you now have a bridge to clear. A big white one. And another 2000' north of that bridge? Power lines. Because obviously water and a bridge wouldn't be enough excitement, nevermind the fact that the Connecticut River flows through a valley, so you have hills on both sides. It's a fantastic sight and a very beautiful area (complete with a large white opera house on the river and wonderful ships of all sizes), but quite tricky as a student pilot.

Anyway, back to my story. Now that you know what Goodspeed looks like, you can probably guess what happened. Chris said "go around" so I gave it full throttle, pulled it back and put up one notch of flaps. I didn't like how close the bridge was getting, but we cleared it comfortably. "Another notch." So I did, still climbing, although unusually slowly. "Last notch." I did again. I don't think I would have without the reminders though, which was a fault: mistake #3.

Then came the scarey part. "Do you see those?" Chris asked. I saw the water below us covered in boats, hills off to the sides covered in trees... wait, except for that one part where a large powerline was going through. I wonder why they put a power line so close to the water if it didn't extend... OVER THE WATER!

Shit, I was too low for this. I looked out my left window and saw the faint powerlines. They were at best 50' below us; close enough that a gust of wind, mechanical problem, or a student pilot unstable with the controls could make us hit them. "My bird" said Chris. He turned a steep right and we climbed out towards the south-west. He gave me back the controls and told me to take him home. Once I got some altitude (2700', to be exact) he asked me what I did wrong back there.

"Well, I couldn't find the airport."
"Yeah, but not that." Clearly he was looking for something specific.
"I didn't consider the pattern when I started trying to lose altitude to land."
"Yeah, what else?"
"My radios weren't good."
"But what did you forget?"
"Flaps up? Angle of approach? Climb out? Too close to the bridge? Too close to the power lines?"
"No, what else?"
I just shrugged. I don't know. Did I mess up something else? Chris put his hand down and turned off the carb heat. Our engine jumped 250RPMs. It was like someone installed a turbo into the car.
"You forgot carb heat. We would've cleared everything just fine if you'd turned it off."
"Ah crap."
Mistake #4. That was the big one of the day.

The flight back was fine. My altitude kept creeping up and down on me, but that was wind, mostly. The sun got most of my attention, since it was directly in front of my face. Chris explained that he wears hats to avoid the sun, whereas my sunglasses just dim it. Keeping a visor or baseball cap in my headset bag sounds like a good idea.

On our, Chris paid me a nice compliment after testing where I would land in an emergency ("that field" pointing): "most of my students I worry about in an emergency. Not you. You always seem like you'd be just fine." That felt good.

Coming in for landing everything was fine. I was perfect for talking to tower, set up the landing just fine (regardless of the sun) and came in at a fine angle. My flair, however, sucked. I touched down hard. I'm still not even sure why it was so bad. I think I flaired too late and didn't bleed off my airspeed in ground effect as well as I should have. Even though I know I can normally land better than that, landings are one of the things I want to be GREAT at. That one wasn't. Mistake #5.

Nothing exciting happened after that. Chris and I talked a bit. He explained that I did really good. Now, based off this post you wouldn't think that was the case, but I focus on the mistakes to learn from them so I can avoid them in the future. Chris had nothing to say about my navigation because it was fine (even if I couldn't find Goodspeed at first) so it didn't get much mention here. He didn't have anything to say about my flight plan, my turns, etc. because they were all good. All-in-all it was a great flight. But I made some mistakes and need to learn from those. Part of the reason I'm focusing on them here is to remind myself "put the carb heat in (in=off) for your next go around."

I'm proud of my flight overall, but these mistakes were real. I need to keep getting better.

My next lesson is up in the air. It sounds like it won't be until sometime next week since Chris's schedule this weekend is too full. I'll keep updated once I know.

1 comment:

Mama Bear said...

Not really a great post for Mom to read...