Diagnostic on my bad radio from Thursday – it went out to the shop for repair.
Before we even fly my Stage II checkride is booked for Tuesday morning with Steve – the Deputy Chief CFI at the school. The brief – “Come in and execute a Cross Country.” This checkride is before I do some more cross countries and then the school polishes me for the examiner. If all goes well – about 12-14 hours away.
So Greg and I go out to fill in the holes in the lessons. We have a list including engine failure on takeoff (to be practiced on a long runway at Providence), steep turns, hood time etc etc. Providence is busy when we head out and they ask us to take an intersection departure at Mike on 34 at just 2500 feet. This is not wise at Providence on 34 as if anything misses a beat you end up down on the highway in Warwick. We decline it. We get asked if we will take an intersection departure on Bravo which is more like 5500 ft. We take that. We don’t hang about – they are trying to get us out before a big jet at the end of 34 who has an IFR departure slot and is ready to go in a few minutes when it opens for him. We blast off and head out on course. I’m handed off to departure and spend a couple of minutes trying to get a word in edgeways. By the time I do – we are almost over the training area. We are planning to file an IFR plan for a box in the training area and then let me deliberately fly VFR into IMC to see if I can get out of the cloud using instruments. This as hood time training – only for real. We get 500ft under the clouds and check the outside temperature. 1 degree C – that means that 500ft higher the temperature will be 0 degrees C and there will be ice forming in the clouds. Ice on the wings=no lift from the wings. We skip the flight into clouds and I put on the “Foggles”. Then Greg has me take the aircraft back a moment without them. I thought he was ambitious trying for shirt sleeves on the ground today. He wriggles into his fleece and then I get back under the hood.
We do some straight and level and then some standard rate turns. Easy enough. Greg describes the clouds forming around us and the fact there are plenty of holes. He has me climb up through one – giving me courses and altitudes. Then he has me in a spiral climb. Then into slow flight and standard rate turns in slow flight. Then the Attitude Indicator is declared inoperative with a black suction cup over it. The question is “what failed it?” I say the vacuum system has failed – but that can’t be correct because the DG is still working (or at least has not been obscured to pretend it is not working). All still under the hood. I’m not sure because it is not part of the electric or pitot static system. I give up. The answer – just the instrument failed. We keep doing clearing turns – but I’m not allowed to look outside – I hope Greg is! Then he has me fly steep turns under the hood. I get the attitude indicator back for this but this is freaking hard. I’m chasing the altitude and then the speed and then the pitch but I can’t get the three locked together. Greg doesn’t let up. He is all over me while I try and pull it together. We go around and around, constantly bumping around in our own wake. The DG tumbles and is now jerking around with no useful information – I have to fall back on the compass. Greg is still on me and I am still not locking it in. Then he gives me one hint as to how to improve the instrument scan on the attitude indicator. Suddenly I get it – the plane settles down and I’m flying steep turns more or less locked in – under the hood. He tells me to roll right and steep turn the other way – I almost immediately get it – even allowing for the need for more rudder in a right turn. Providence calls up and asks if we would like to come back north or get handed off to Cape Approach. I’m out from under the hood a moment while Greg has me spiral back below the clouds and back to the north – then under the hood again. Slow flight and stall and recover. I set up, stall her and recover – but I’m 30 degrees off course as I recover. Again. I lock it in this time. Now power on stalls. All still under the hood. My first recovery is a bit aggressive and I snap the plane over as I do – losing too much altitude. The second one – she noses over – I stamp on the rudder to keep her straight and fly her out. “Nice!” says Greg. When Greg says “Nice!” – you know you done good! I come out from under. 50 minutes of sheer hard work and concentration. Do I want a break?
I’m actually on a high. Reveling in the exercise – wanting to do well and keep practicing. I ask about the standards of that last bit for the exam. I’m told you only do the straight flight and gentle turns under the hood for the examiner. The rest – I was being pushed to do better – as I requested. Now – do I want a beak? I know I will be tired at the end of the double block and it would be wise to take a break. Where are we asks Greg? – I point out New Bedford – I know there is a diner there. “Expensive” says Greg. “Let’s go to – oh – Plymouth”. I’ve never been to Plymouth. I don’t have Plymouth prepared on any of my little prompt cards and I’m beginning to think Greg knows that too. It is a diversion exercise. I straighten out, trim the plane and start flying slowly towards New Bedford as a known point from which to head for Plymouth. I call Providence and let them know what we are doing, grab my sectional chart and lay off a course, dial in a radial on the VOR, grab the AFD and look up the frequencies. I get the weather and figure runway 6. I get the CTAF and dial it in. Greg wants to know why I don’t start heading for Plymouth. I say I like to navigate from a known position. He wonders why I don’t just head there. Later over lunch we discuss it – it is a matter of style. We were both correct – his decision based on prior knowledge. Mine on finding from first principles.
We overfly New Bedford high enough to not worry about the Class D space. But the clouds are beginning to roil down ahead of us and we have to start flying lower and around them. NOT scud running – but cautious cloud avoidance. I realize I forgot to get the airport altitude and have to grab the AFD again to look so I can figure Traffic Pattern Altitude. For a moment I have forgotten it is also on the chart. Greg asks if I am going to get the weather. I already did – “050 12 gusting 16, 10 miles vis. So runway 6” – I say. Greg missed me getting the weather or is playing at distractions to see how I will deal with them. I’m not sure which. I get it again for him. We talk about pattern entry – I’ve already called on the CTAF and announced a midfield crosswind for runway 6 – my thinking is that I can hear other aircraft in the pattern and a full upwind, crosswind, downwind is likely to meet someone climbing out when I am on crosswind. Mid-field crosswind is safer. I’m articulating this aloud. Something I’m practicing because it goes over well with the examiner. Helps him understand your decision making. As I enter the pattern I’m saying things like – “have the plane on the taxiway”. Greg looks fairly relaxed. I fly the pattern and land. A small bark from the tires, a hair flat but I dealt with the gusts and slight cross wind fairly well. We come off and taxi to parking. We discuss the landing. Greg rates it a good one in gusts – you have to plant is and keep it down. We park.
There is a pilot shop. An excuse to leave your credit card with the owner. I keep myself in check getting a new sectional chart – my current one is beginning to fall apart – and a hat for Alex. We go have lunch. The clouds roil down lower and it gets pretty gusty. Greg gets the weather before we even eat – looks like me might have to file IFR to get home. We sit and watch planes take off and land while we eat. Estimating when they have to level off to avoid going into clouds. We finish lunch and go get the weather again. There is a local boiling pot of cloud hanging over the field but the forecast and looking to the west – and home – looks clear enough. I pre-flight the aircraft. As we get in I lay off a course on my sectional chart for home, grab my E6B calculator and put in the wind and get a wind correction angle. I jot them on my kneeboard, along with the correct radial for Providence. The plan is to take off and if we cannot stay VFR legal – land and file for an IFR flight plan. If we file first – it looks like we would almost certainly cancel it as soon as we got going and were in clear air. This is “real world” flying. The decision based on staying in the pattern which would be quite safe – and if it is not safe to venture out – landing and filing.
We taxi to the runway, runup and watch a helicopter and two planes land as we wait. I get her into the air. A gust knocks me up and the stall warning horn squeaks as I push her down to keep her flying. We are in the air and then it is a quick and fast and furious turn through crosswind, downwind and climbing out under the boiling cloud base. It is clear ahead and though I have New Bedford in the GPS as a precaution we will be able to climb above his airspace. We weave to avoid a couple of small clouds and climb up into gorgeous sunny weather with little fleecy sheep around us. My wind correction angle is good and we are on the radial. I call Providence to tell them we are coming home and start letting down. They set us up for a right base to runway 34 and I get handed to tower. I get a new one for me – I’m number one on runway 34 but number two on the field after the aircraft landing on 5. I see a 737 on final for 5 and I call back – “cleared to land number one on 34, two for the field, have the traffic” – about as short as I can compress it. “Good call” from Greg. The weather tells us it will be a right cross wind. Greg’s experience suggests I call for a runway report. The tower’s weather suggests left cross wind and as I go down I do a right, left, right mix as the wind swings around. A gust puts me a little high and left as I try and land. “Fly the plane” from Greg but he stays off the controls – I fly her down and get her down. I don’t think it is dreadfully elegant and I am off centerline – but Greg seems happy enough with it – apart from centerline. We taxi in. All the school planes are parked. We have to go the other side of the hangar to find a spot. As we go around the corner a gust sets off the stall warning horn. So – gusting around 35-40 on the corner of the hanger. “Nose Down” jokes Greg. I park, shut down and we relax.
As we go in I comment it seems strange all the aircraft are on the ground. Greg thinks it is because it is switch over time. But we are actually a few minutes early. We go in. All the instructors are sitting around. Where have we been? We tell them. They all sat out the last block because it was too gusty at Providence! Oh well.