Archive for December, 2010

Up for another three hour session on New Year’s Eve. Soft field and Short Field landings. Soft is pretty obvious – get out the grass and mud as soon as you can. Pop her into the air as soon as you can – then wheelbarrow her down the runway a few feet off the ground in ground effect till she gets up enough airspeed. Short is different. You do a mad amount of math about air pressure prevailing at the altitude you are at in the prevailing temperature and humidity. Then you dial in aircraft performance at that figure, dial in older school aircraft needs another 10% runway – then student technique (meaning you need to be better than you are) add 15% runway length – then calculate that though you might be off the ground – you still need to clear the “standard” 50ft object (usually trees at the end of the runway). Add all that up and get to 50ft in the air before you run out of your number. But you practice on a runway that is much longer than you need!

It is all about aircraft handling – like boat handling – putting it exactly where you want it at the speed and direction you want. It is much more demanding than boat handling. One of my short fields yesterday DID meet the theoretical shortest run. But frankly it was more of a fluke that good handling. You need a lot to get proficient.

While we were waiting for one take off we had a scary helicopter landing on top of an aircraft pulling onto the runway right in front of us. The plane never saw the helicopter and the helicopter THOUGHT the plane was not rolling. I think about three of us all squawked on the radio simultaneously and the helicopter slipped sideways when they were about 50ft apart. Then there was the plane that made a determined attempt to stay on a collision course with us as we climbed out on one of our takeoffs. We went to a maximum rate climb to get over him. He was entering the traffic pattern (think roundabout around the airport) in the wrong place.

You have just enough hours and experience to pull it off in ideal conditions after a final assessment at the airfield on the day in the prevailing conditions. It is a tremendous feeling and achievement – not just for yourself – but for the school and your instructor.

Read my rememberance of the momentous day HERE. (PDF file)

It probably took over a week for me to come down from the high!

Dreadful weather Sunday. A 90 knot wind shear over the airport on Sunday had SouthWest divert all flights elsewhere. I took a friend to the airport this morning to get back to San Francisco but didn’t really think I would get my lesson in – but no – there was a quiet spot over the airport. In a double block lesson today – 14 landings.

First block we did 4 but then had the flaps not fully retract on the climb out. They did when we cycled them but we went down to talk to the mechanic. Of course we couldn’t find anything wrong. Perhaps a little frozen moisture in the grease on the tracks. So after another preflight – up we went again.

We carved around the sky over Providence with thick murk all around but not in our little bubble over the airfield. Crosswind landings, into wind landings, short field landings, extended downwinds and go arounds when a Lear jet came whistling in too fast behind us. I had one “bounce” which needed a go-around but otherwise at the end I was told – “you are now doing ‘safe’ landings”. Meaning they are nothing to write home about but I won’t break the plane! Hey I did an 11 knot full on cross wind landing – the airplane is only rated up to 14. I was quite pleased with that one!

Last climb out the instructor was so off the controls – I thought he had messed with my trim when I wasn’t looking to see what I would do when the plane pitched wrongly. I re-trimmed quite significantly and told him to stop messing with me but no he hadn’t – the flaps didn’t retract properly again. We cycled them and they went up fine. Down we came and back to the mechanic. We finally traced it to the switch that drives the motor – not to the actual flaps themselves.

Still – I am now making “safe” landings….. It has only taken about 50………..

A classic line heard on the radio this morning. A passenger jet having just taken off from Providence and leaving the airspace….

“Providence Departure – this is Flight1234 – sorry – I’m having a senior moment – what altitude did you want me at?”…..