Monday, September 8, 2008

More Stalls & BAI + Bonus

It's been a while since I last posted; my apologies. I've been fairly busy with my check-ride fast approaching this Thursday. I had two lessons last week (since my most recent post) and one ground-school lesson too.

The first lesson was Thursday night. With visibility a little low due to haze, Chris decided we were going to do "stalls and ground reference: one of each, then come back." So my lesson plan was going to include: one power-on stall, one power-off stall, one turn-around-a-point, one rectangular-turn and one S-turn.

We took off and went north to the practice area. Chris told me to do either stall whenever I was ready. I took a minute to compose myself, find an emergency landing and remind myself not to stare at the instruments before starting my clearing turns: a 360 degree turn to the left, explaining out-loud what I was doing and why (looking for traffic). Once I came out of the turn to a north heading, I started my power-off stall: carb heat, a little power out, first notch of flaps - maintain altitude, when clear: second notch of flaps - maintain altitude, when clear: final notch of flaps - maintain altitude, hold nose straight and level until you can feel the stall coming on by "bumps" forming under the plane.

I, however, was not stalling. Chris noted why: "it's hard to do a power-off stall when you're not power-off." Oops. I'd forgotten to pull the power to idle after my last notch of flaps. Once I did, the nose tried dropping, but as I held it to the horizon I felt the stall bumps coming on. I did the maneuver well... once the power was off. Now I'll remember to look for that next time.

I then set-up for the power-on stall. Power all the way in, and just pull the nose back too high. I was giving too much right rudder, thinking back to last time when I wasn't giving it enough. I eased off and tried to keep the wings level. Once I felt the pre-stall bumps under the plane, I pushed the nose over. Much better.

Then Chris asked me to enter slow flight, something I hadn't done in a looong time. In fact, we'd hardly ever gone over it, but I thought I remembered what to do, so I gave it a try. Carb heat on, a little power out, and all the flaps in (one notch at a time). It was basically the power-off stall I messed up earlier, because I kept some power in to maintain flight this time. I pitched my nose up to maintain about 50 knots. I kept scanning outside: "looking for traffic, got an emergency field picked out, airspeed 50 knots, altitude 3500 feet, heading due north, looking for traffic..."

I was doing well, so Chris told me to turn east. I lifted the right wing slightly (checking for traffic) before turning to that heading. I noted that I was doing a shallow turn because I was in slow flight, and a steep turn would cause me to lose even more of my vertical component of lift, making it easier to stall. Chris told me that I would be golden if I could mention stuff like that on my check-ride, so I made a mental note. He had me turn a few more headings in slow flight before telling me that was good and to return to normal flight.

On the way back, Chris pulled the throttle to idle. "Show me an emergency." I picked a field, then pitched to 65 knots (Chris noted that I should have done them both at the same time). I set up for the landing, but was still so high as I flew over it that I went right past and had to turn around. Since the field was perpendicular to the wind, this wasn't a problem, but now I was afraid I was coming in too short. Once I got back to facing the field, I realized I was set-up pretty well. Chris told me to put the power back in and take-off. We had gotten pretty low, so Chris gave me some advice for the check-ride: ask Royal (the examiner) to tell me when give it power again. That way, he's responsible for making sure we stay above the 500' AGL minimum required. Certainly something I'm going to have to remember, because if I get lower than 500', I fail. Plain and simple.

I climbed out and noted that I wasn't pitching for the best climb speed because I was in a "cruise climb," meaning that I was climbing, but not in any rush, and I was en-route to a destination. Another useful thing to tell Royal during the check-ride.

Coming in for landing I was set-up pretty nicely and touched down smoothly. Chris commented that it was a great landing. I noted that I only had 1 notch of flaps, but explained that it was all I needed. Overall, I'd had a very good flight. My biggest fault was not having the power off during that first stall maneuver. Keep studying.

Friday I arrived to the airport early, with clear skies. There was a small airshow visiting Oxford, just showing off some WW2 bombers and fighters. There was a small crowd watching the B-35 bomber start up. Meanwhile I did my pre-flight right next to him on my Cessna 152. Little embarrassing to do that standing in front of an audience, next to an airplane that has at least 4 machine gun turrets on it.

When Chris and I taxied out to the runway it suddenly got very busy. About 5 planes landed before the tower called me back: "984, I haven't forgotten you, it's just busy." Chris noted that the planes were trying to get home before the bad weather came in. He and I weren't going to be gone long, so we were OK to go up. When a break came, the tower gave us the chance to take-off "without delay." I did it fine, but Chris noted that I don't have to accept a "without delay" take-off. In fact, during my check-ride, he advised against it. One more mental note to stuff my brain prior to Thursday's flight. I appreciated any tips I could get.

Chris had decided we would be doing BAI, since I didn't have enough time yet. (BAI is the official name for "foggles" - the sunglasses which make it so all I can see is the instrument panel, as if I flew into bad weather.) Chris had me put them on as we climbed out all the way to the practice area.

Once we got the to practice area, Chris gave me some altitudes and headings, reminding me to SCAN the instruments and not get focused on just one. I was doing pretty well: talking the whole time, admitting my mistakes, but correcting them. Eventually Chris decided I should start climbing at about 500 feet per minute, and just keep climbing. He gave me more headings, but never had me stop my climb. Noting that this was an otherwise boring flight, he decided: "let's see how high we can get."

Around 9000' MSL Chris saw something: a balloon. Apparently we flew directly over a balloon. I was a little nervous, since hot air balloons were hard to maneuver, and I didn't want to hit it, but Chris corrected me: it wasn't a hot air balloon. It was a regular one, like kids get at carnivals. He took the controls and I removed the foggles for a minute to try to find it again. No such luck. At least we had a cool story, I noted, putting the foggles on and starting to climb again.

Chris had us flying south-west, into the wind (which got even stronger at these altitudes). Flying into the wind gave us a ground speed of "very slow." Nothing normally goes this slow at this altitude. Passing 10,000 feet, Chris joked that the local traffic advisory were looking at us on radar thinking "there's a tiny VFR flight going 3mph at 10,000 feet... is that a bee?" A few jets flew overhead. We were at the point where you could see the atmosphere, not just the city you were over (when Chris let me peak).

By the time we finally got to 12,500 feet, Chris gave me a chance to look again. I could see the shoreline all the way from Rhode Island to New York, complete with the storm slowly moving in. Chris told me to just have fun, flying around and looking, so I did for a bit before he had me return to BAI flight.

As we descended, he gave me a few headings, but mostly just told me to descend faster and faster. My ears and sinuses were feeling funny, which was expected. (Chris and I actually went over medical stuff in Saturday's ground school.) Then came the fun part: Chris told me he was going to have me do a nearly-blind landing. He grabbed the pillow from the back and stuffed it in my windshield so I couldn't peak. He then gave me headings and had me descend at a bunch of different numbers. He commented "giving you this information is as hard for me as it is for you." Understandable. Trying to land a plane blindfolded isn't easy for the pilot, or for the person trying to talk him through it.

Less than a quarter-mile from the runway, with 1 notch of flaps in and the carb heat on, Chris removed the pillow and told me to take off the foggles. "If you can't make it, do a go-around," he said. I knew I could make it, so I aimed for the runway. Chris dumped in the last two notches of flaps and helped push down on the yoke to keep the plane from climbing (which it always tries to when you first add flaps). I made my (slightly bumpy) landing when he told me that I should have done a go-around. "You wouldn't have made it if I hadn't added the flaps." I wasn't sure I believed him, pointing out that the runway is a mile long. Surely I wouldn't have flaired for a mile. "It's also down slope," he pointed out. I remain unconvinced, but took note of his advice. I was coming in faster than I should have, so the flaps were a good idea.

That was it for Friday.

Saturday was ground-school. We just went over the test questions: some of which I knew, and many I didn't. Chris told me what to study and told me to admit when I didn't know the answer. Also: don't be a know-it-all. If I go into detail on a question I could have answered simply, Royal will dig deeper until he finds something I don't know. I need to remember that this isn't a test I need to pass 100% - it's a test where I need to show that I am a competent pilot and know how to find answers that I don't already know.

I won't get into the detailed questions, but two hours of ground school can be just as draining as 6 touch-and-gos when you're as focused as I was.

Sunday came with some excitement. Instead of flying myself (Chris took the day off, and I didn't ask to go solo) I decided I'd go to the airshow at Westover AFB that I'd gotten rained out of on Saturday. There they showed off a bunch of planes (though the only modern fighters were the F-16 and F-18) and I took tons of photos and videos. (They will eventually appear on here, I promise.) After watching one pilot tumble through the air, then dive into the ground on a maneuver I was sure was going to end tragically, I was at a loss for words. These people made the most complicated flights look so easy I could do them. They were amazing.

I also spent some time talking to a Major Dave "CK" Kase, who was standing next to an Air Force trainer. Apparently he instructs the instructors. I joked that he was the CFII of the Air Force, and he was impressed at how much I knew about flying. He was my favorite guy at the whole show because he was willing to talk, and was genuinely nice.

Finally, the Thunderbirds. In what can't really be described in words, I saw, first-hand, the most amazing flight skills that I can possibly imagine. With 3-mile straight-up flight, head-on games of chicken at 1000MPH closing speeds and much more, it was certainly an amazing airshow. Without attempting to describe how awesome it was (since I would certainly fail), let me just say this: if you get a chance to see the Thunderbirds: do. Afterwards they even came out to sign autographs and everything. Instead, I got my picture with them all, except #5, the girl, since they ran out of time. Unfortunately, my camera also ran out of battery (and was low on space on my memory card) so my video clips are just seconds long each, and two of my 5 photos of me with the Thunderbirds are from my phone - much lower quality.

Anyway, that wraps up my lessons thus far (and the bonus). Every night this week I plan to go flying, and my check-ride is Thursday. I'll try to post before then, but if I can't, wish me luck!

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