Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The ghost and the wind gusts.

Part 2 of my stage check arrived with a stiff wind out of the west. It was 10 knots and gusting to 20 knots, and it was a situation that was promising to make my flight portion of the stage check "interesting".

It didn't help that it was muggy and almost 90 degrees, so my climb rate was around 300fpm. My check instructor (Sammy) wanted to go to 3500 feet and I said "I don't think we have enough fuel for that". Thankfully, he laughed. He finally settled for 3000 feet (2100 feet above ground - the ground is 900 feet above sea level). We did steep turns and I held my altitude and speed pretty well, though my speed was definitely a little fast. It became obvious that my maneuvering skills had started to tarnish a bit from concentrating on landings the last four lessons.

After steep turns, we did slow flight. Sadly, Jimmy had only done this with me once or twice, and of course the check instructor wanted me to do a bunch of stuff in slow flight so the tarnish became a little more apparent. But I did what I could, and then we went to stalls. I was taught to recover the stall at the break, but Sammy wanted to show me that it's more elegant to recover at the shimmy, which I suppose might be a safer way to react to an impending stall (the airplane will start to vibrate just before it stalls). To be honest, recovering from the shimmy vs. the break is a lot faster and easier, so I had no problem with it. We also did power off stalls (a stall with the engine at idle). I made sure to keep the plane coordinated (not slipping or skidding) which is key at preventing a spin.

Once we were done with stalls, Sammy pulled my throttle out to idle and said "oops your engine just died". I went through the emergency checklist, by pitching for the best glide speed, picking a landing spot, and other things like broadcasting a mayday and setting my transponder to "7600" (emergency). I did everything right, except I chose to land with a tailwind. Now, the landing is still possible with a tailwind but it's going to be faster and require more space. Landing into the wind is always better.

Now, onto landings. I warned Sammy that my landing skills were green and not "gust tested", but he assured me that if he had to take over a landing it wouldn't really count against me due to the weather. The first landing was actually pretty good. I compensated for the gusts and crosswind, and although it wasn't a greaser, it was a good solid landing and Sammy said "that'll work!". I took off and flew the pattern again and this time I made sure to screw up the landing. We came pretty close to the edge of the runway, and Sammy urged me to steer towards the center of the runway. Anyway, we didn't even land that hard but good grief, that landing was one I hope to forget.

So, we taxi back to the school and we head downstairs for debriefing. He basically said "you did fine out there today, I see no problem letting you solo. I'll talk to your instructor."

Friday, weather permitting, I will get to solo. These are exciting times!

Oh, one more thing. A new feature of my blog is a cool GPS track of my flight. Download the .kmz file and open it in Google Earth. It will show altitude and course. Enjoy!

Google Earth Track:
Stage Check

Sunday, July 27, 2008

So close...

Friday I motored on down to the airport to take my stage check test. The test consists of 1 hour of oral testing and 1 hour (or so) of flying. This test is to demonstrate if a student is ready for solo flight.

So, I got there and Sammy, the check ride instructor, took me downstairs for the knowledge test. I think I did really well, but he found one item (power curves) that I hadn't reviewed since I first studied the material. That really sucked but I nailed everything else so I'm not too worried.

Then we looked at the weather. The automated weather monitor was reported 10 knots gusting to 20 knots. Now, it was coming straight down the runway, but even a gust from directly ahead will cause the plane to balloon. I preflighted the plane and stood outside for a moment, and it didn't seem to be gusting much. The wind sock was pretty steady so I told Sammy that I'd be ok flying. He said that he's more lenient if the weather is challenging, and to be honest, the first half of my training has been in gusty weather.

We fired up the old 152 and taxied out to the runway. She seemed to be running well but then....the oil temp gauge was fluctuating and not giving a good reading so we had to abort.

In a way, it's ok because I got to break up the test and possibly have better weather, so I'm not too bothered by it. If the weather is good this week I should be able to complete the flight test and then solo. I'm excited but a little nervous about the solo. Updates to follow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time to move on...

I've been stuck on landings for several lessons now, as all of my faithful readers are now painfully aware. There are, oh, half a dozen things you have to do all at once when you land and if you mess up one element, your landing goes in the crapper pronto. Each bad landing was unique, in that I would correct something I'd messed up on a previous landing, but then something else would escape from me. It was very frustrating, but then...it came to me.

Eventually I figured out the magic formula. In the last lesson I did a bunch of bad landings...then, the last one was good. Today I confirmed that it wasn't a fluke and I did 3 good landings and 1 "OK" landing. There wasn't any intervention from Jimmy (although on the "OK" landing he touched the yoke to make sure I didn't flare too high...I didn't).

Jimmy was satisfied that my landings are acceptable and he scheduled for me a Stage Check on Friday - which is a pre-solo check consisting of an hour of oral knowledge testing and a 1 hour flight to demonstrate basic flight maneuvers (and landing LOL). So, with luck I'll solo next week.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Wear and Tear

I had a tough lesson on Friday. We did six take offs and landings. The first four were, well, terrible. After the fourth bad landing (with a couple that Jimmy had to intervene in), we pulled off onto the taxiway and I threw up my hands. I said "Jimmy I'm getting worse - I'm forgetting things in the pattern and my landings are not improving. I need to just clear my mind a bit." Jimmy of course was as cool as a cucumber and just said "I'll fly the next one completely. You just watch and try to relax."

So, that's what I did. And the funny thing is, his pattern was just like mine. His approach was a bit more polished, but I just took a step back and watched him flare and land. That's when it hit me: the landing is just a mirror image of the takeoff. My takeoffs are rock solid - straight down the runway. You see, the problem I've been having is losing positional control at the flare, so I've never really been able to concentrate on getting the flare right.

Pattern #6. Everything looks tight. Glide slope: red above white (approach is alright!). Speed is right on target. Wind starts moving me around, I make small corrections and keep my approach as clean as possible. I crossed the threshold, pull out power SLOOOWLY, nose starts to drift, and I made a slight rudder correction. I started my flare, the airplane was nice and straight, THUMP! It was a nice, straight landing. A deeper flare would have made it smoother, but everything finally clicked. We're going to keep doing landing practice until all the landings are good and non-assisted, but next lesson is starting to look promising. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shadows and dust.

Lesson: Eleventy-two

Today I had more landing practice. It was a bit warm but not too muggy, so we didn’t suffer too much while taxiing around. The “good” 152 was in the shop today (they were fixing the nose gear shimmy dampeners – YAY) so we had the “bad” one. I guess it’s not so bad, because in some ways it’s better. First, the nose gear doesn’t shimmy at all, it starts faster, and it has a very early GPS that can tell you how far and what direction the airport is. But, it’s an older plane with more hours, tends to get fouled plugs, and the radio has some weird squelch thing going on.

The Good

The first two landings were good. Landing 1 was a bit hard but that’s all that was wrong. Landing 2 was a nice solid landing.

The Bad

The next two landing were a mess. Suffice it to say that there was some really nice bouncing and yawing that didn’t wreck the airplane. But I’ve figured out the problem: I’m overcorrecting for wind, altitude, etc. when I should be just correcting.

The Aftermath

I know how decent landings look and feel, so I’ve made real progress. Jimmy wants one more lesson with just landings and I agree – I need all the landings to be good before I would consider moving on. I’ve got another lesson tomorrow, and hopefully everything will click.

I reiterated to Jimmy that I wasn’t in a hurry and that I’d do as many landings as I needed to make them all “decent”. I’m not trying to set a record or anything. Landings are not something that I want to rush.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kick the tires and, uh...

Lesson 11

The stage check is barreling down on me like a freight train. I'm ready for the oral portion, and my takeoffs and flight maneuvers are pretty solid. The last bit that needs polishing is, of course, my landings.

We were going to do three takeoffs and landings today, but it turned into four for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. I'll stick to my normal format here and break down each of the landings.

Landing One

Jimmy, my instructor, keep reminding me to loosen up and make small control inputs, not large jerky ones. Sadly, I already know this but I was nervous. This wasn't a checkride but I knew that landings were the last obstacle to taking the stage check and soloing. While my pattern looked good (if a little clunky) and my approach was decent, I flared too much and Jimmy had to take the controls to salvage the landing. I wasn't happy with this, as it seemed like a step backwards. We reviewed my mistakes and took off again.

Landing Two

Good pattern, solid approach, lined up perfectly. Flared way too late. BANG. Nothing bent. To elaborate a bit, I instinctively abandoned the flare when I heard the stall horn. Note to self: stall horn OK during the flare.

Landing Three

Pattern and approach are a lot smoother, I'm shaking off the jitters. This time I flared too high and had to let it float down a bit. Jimmy helped on controls a bit but the landing was salvageable.

Landing Four

Pattern and approach are not a problem anymore. I crossed the threshold, chopped the throttle, let her settle a bit, and started my flare. Then I pulled back slowly but completely, and the plane settled down on the runway with a satisfying "chirp". Jimmy suggested we stop on a high note and I agreed.


Essentially, we both agreed that I need another landing practice session before I take the stage check. He thinks I'm ready but not confident enough. I agreed 100 percent - I need more landings under my belt. So Tuesday of next week I have a session scheduled for landings, and then Wednesday or Thursday he's going to schedule the stage check. I feel like I'm on the verge of putting all the elements of landing together, but it hasn't clicked yet. We shall see. Oh yes, we shall.

Next lesson: greasing every landing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stage Check.

Well I don't have a whole lot to write about this time. My last lesson was 2 hours of ground school reviewing weather, weight and balance, and performance charts. We also spent some time going over the knowledge test to prepare for the stage check.

The stage check is to ensure that I'm ready to solo. To be honest, I feel ready for the solo except for landings, which we are going to practice quite a bit in the next few days.

I have a lesson scheduled today to practice pattern work and landings if the weather holds out.