Archive for June, 2011

So I soloed to the Scituate training area today. Steep turns, Slow flight, stalls, power on stalls – I’m pretty sure all to better than PTS. VFR and within my personal minimums but quite hazy. I used the VOR for real to get back to the field when I came back from 12 miles away. (The GPS was also set up but I used that to find the edge of the Class C airspace rather than to find my way home).

Then at Providence for pattern work – soft fields in high density altitude conditions. Providence offered me 16 or 23 the wind was calm (the active was 23) – I said whichever would work best with their operations. They put me on 16. I think they decided to give the controllers a work out with crossing landing traffic. So I made 16 MINE for 50 mins. Softing down (well after the first couple) and softing out. The softs outs – after a couple I really got her wheelbarrowing and then catapulting out of ground effect at 80 knots. It was a blast. I’m required to do full stop and taxi backs on solos but Providence were having fun too and had me doing taxi backs on 16 rather than drive all around the taxiways. It was like I had my own little 3000ft strip at Providence today – just a bit of runway 16 (which is actually 6081 ft long). I never used more than 2000ft of it and more often than not I was stopped in 1500ft.

Then on one pattern there was a jet for 23 pretty close behind as I was midfield downwind for 16. “Two Sierra Juliet – please make this a tight one” from the tower. I couldn’t resist – I pulled a landing pattern from Commercial Rating which I had done with Greg a while back. I pulled the power, pitched up for flap extension speed put in full flaps then pitched down and SANK the plane 1000ft in a U turn around the spot to put her on the runway in a short field landing in no wind to help stop her. I was a little high at the bottom of the “U” and pitched up for 62 knots so the plane sank harder. Then pitch forward for 65 as I completed the “U”. Still a little high. Was going to be embarrassing if I had to go around and so force the jet to also go around on 23. I slipped gently. She sank more and I picked the 1000ft marker as my short field point. The plane positively sank on the point as I pitched up for 62 knots and then flared her to soften the “plant it” landing. She dropped firmly but gently onto her gear and I stopped in 500ft without hurting the brakes at all. I think I surprised tower because it was a while till the jet did show up! This was fun and flying!

Another pattern and in to the school and to brief my instructor. 6 landings in total. We sign me off for the examiner tomorrow after going through my logbook to pick out the required experience to put on the form. Till then – I’ve to book a plane every three days or so and solo to stay on top of it till the examiner can get to me. Just call the instructor and agree the weather is suitable in advance. Examiner possibly Saturday or more likely early next week.

Saturday morning – A gap between the thunder squall line that just passed over and the next incoming block of rain. Ceilings at 5000 overcast. I evaluate we can squeeze in a lesson but must stay local. Greg agrees. It is still raining a little during preflight. I go over 503SP very carefully. I’ve flown her so often she is like MY plane at the school. Well I like to treat her that way. I clean off the grease and oil streaks more than really necessary for preflighting and check her over carefully. I know her wrinkles and dents and can spot anything new immediately.

She is all set and Greg and I clamber in. Though we have done this countless times – I brief him about seatbelts, air vents and door closing and tell him he is part of the team and should help keep a lookout. I start up and out we go to warm up. We are going to the training area to do steep turns. We get a new taxi route to runway 5 – the ground controllers must get bored handing out the same ones! We set up to go and though the wind is indicated as right cross wind at takeoff – we experience some left part way down the runway – I get on it but I don’t think very well. We climb out to the training area and look at the rain showers over Providence and the roiling mess above. The bank of cloud towards Danielson looks lower than our altitude. Wish we had a weather radar. We get the weather on the radio at other airfields to the west and keep a close eye on the clouds and rain around us.

We skirt the rain and get to Scituate where I set up for steep turns. I haven’t done them in a while and they are the first thing to go in your skill set. I perform my clearing turns and then around we go. Greg chivying and prompting and nudging me to do better. We go right and we go left. About eight times. I like about two of them. “Enough” calls Greg – “let’s go do some landings.” Now when Greg says “Enough” that usually means he thinks you are getting tired and you will be back up again to do better. My last one to the right was not great. “No” – I say – “I want one more”. I dial around to the right again. It is locked in and nearly flawless. Well for me. I’m much happier. We head back to Providence for landings. I’m happy with about three of the nine turns.

We discover that at 3000ft the wind is blowing about 30 knots on the nose. It is a long haul home. We have called for pattern work. We are cleared for the option on runway 5. “Short or Soft Fields” says Greg. I need Short Field practice. I listen to the wind factor and the gust factor the controller reads me up. I elect for soft with only partial flaps and a 10 knot added landing speed to account for gusts. Shorts would not be appropriate in the conditions. Right gusty crosswinds. I don’t do right a lot – usually left. Down we go. I wrestle and wriggle and get after the plane the whole way down to final. The kids’ soccer game on the right hand corner of the safety area seems awful close. I set up, bank the wings, correct on the rudder and wriggle down and soft her onto the runway. There is some cross wind. I’m at nearly full yoke to hold her but I get stopped in about 2,000ft at the 5,000ft remaining marker, flaps up – good to go and off we go again. Four times in total. Each one a joy in staying on the plane in the gusty wind. Flying and skill practice. Love it. Each time the controller calls me up the landing wind it is stronger and gustier and each time I manage to wrestle her down on the centerline. The last one was not perfect but it was a 12 knot cross gust as I put her down and I’m pretty happy.

We taxi in. I checklist and shut down. “What did you think?” asks Greg? I say I liked about three of my steep turns and had a lot of FUN with the landings. Greg tells me my steep turns were ALL to PTS except perhaps one and he liked the landings too. “It is probably time to end our relationship.” This is code of my Stage III Checkride from the Checkride instructor before the ride with the examiner. “What do I think?”

I actually think and enunciate that an examiner’s job is to check that the instructor’s opinion is valid and that this means he has in effect passed me as a private pilot – even though I now need to demonstrate this to two others. I also don’t think of it as the end of the relationship. I want to pass my Checkride and then fly on with Greg for my IFR rating – but yes – I want this and I am ready.

We go in and book my Stage III Checkride for Sunday morning (probably get rained off) with a fall back of Tuesday morning.

Density AltitudeSo Saturday, Tuesday and today Wednesday the weather has been slowly getting on the boil. Easily hitting 24C by 08:00 in the morning this morning. Which means we have to start to worry about density altitude. The air is hot and thin and the plane doesn’t fly so well. 3000ft runways that you could jump off in 800ft or less in the cold of winter are now 2000ft stretches. Short Field technique to get out is beginning to be for real and short field to land the same.

Have to do the math. Wind direction, strength, crosswind, headwind, airport altitude, temperature, dewpoint and humidity. Runway slope and condition. Suddenly that spreadsheet I labored over this winter because I thought it might become useful really is. Instead of 10 mins with a calculator and 3 sets of tables and all the chances of mistakes – you punch in the numbers from the field weather report and it gives you an immediate runway length needed and abort point as well as expected take off run and distance needed to get over the 50ft trees at the end. Newport (where we practiced today) may be at 147ft altitude – but the air today calculated as 1,400ft it was so warm. At 13:30 in the height of the day it is now 1960ft.

Take Off – 1112ft roll, 1899ft to clear the trees, Abort at 1500ft roll if plane not doing 38.5 knots – it ain’t going to fly. We even leaned the mixture slightly prior to take off and got an extra 100rpm and 5% power. The air was thinner and the mixture could be leaned.

Vx hard climbing out – Flaps 10 and supposedly at 57 knots but in practice at 60 for safety as the warm turbulence can leave you a few knots short – also an exercise in speed control. Constantly chasing the airspeed as the air swirls around the wings.

Landing – Total of 1297ft needed to clear 50ft trees and get down with a 559ft roll included – with heavy braking. We stayed off the brakes to save them and managed 1600ft stops.

Getting in over the (usually theoretical) 50 ft trees at the end of the runway need not be pretty – just a smart drop in and flare onto the main wheels at slow speed, flaps up to transfer weight from the wings to the main wheels and heavy braking to stop. Saturday I was sort of getting it. Monday I had the sight picture of aiming short of the runway and diving slightly while flaps full down and power off to hold her at a sinking 62 knots then flaring in over the end of the runway to sink her in. I had it in my mind but not happening very often. Today – they were dropping in to Practical Test Standards – even with cross winds. I had the speed control. The last one my instructor had me do all power off from 900ft to control it all the way down.

By 10:00 we climbed slowly like a dog out of Newport and crawled home to Providence. Been an interesting three lessons. Tomorrow’s density altitude threatens to be even higher. Speed control, Speed Control, Speed Control….