Great end to a very blustery weekend. Having spent a bunch of time outdoors counting birds (feathered) for the Great Backyard Bird Count – the wind calmed enough at day end Sunday to sneak in a flying lesson. We went up over the Newport Training Area and flew steep turns, emergency approaches (using Horseneck beach as a practice runway) and 2000ft per min descents in side and forward slips to practice high rate altitude loss. Finished with some landings in the twilight at Providence. Awesome!

Went to fly another solo at North Central but when we got there it was pretty aggressively gusty. We have kind of reached the end of the Stage II syllabus except for solo cross countries so when that happens I ask for some more “good stick and rudder stuff – I want to FLY the plane – not just pass the test”. Got it in spades today.

Started flying approaches and stunningly steep 2,000ft per min side slip descents for getting into really tight spaces. Like start at the end of the runway you are going to land at but at 1000ft AGL and get down without going anywhere horizontally. Once I started to get some together we flew some taildragger steep curved approaches. “Spitfire and Mustang” approaches in a Cessna! It was a complete blast – made all the easier by the fact that after 20 mins all the other school planes decided it was too turbulent for beginner learning and all went in to ground school. We had the place to ourselves!

Did I mention I like my instructor? He pushes you to FLY the plane.

My lesson cancelled at short notice this morning. The plane had a bird strike on the previous night flight lesson and would need a new airfilter and inspection. No one noticed. Avoiding birds at night is tough. The airbypass kicked in and drew air from inside the cowling so there was no performance loss from the part blocked filter. No one noticed anything till the plane was down.

I get asked this a lot. It is a regional airport with jets and cargo planes and can seem pretty intimidating. A friend who is thinking of taking up flying asked me and from my lofty 60 hours of experience and I revisited some of my reasoning.

I deliberately picked KPVD to mix it with the big boys and controllers. I met someone who legally passed down in a quiet bit of Florida and the first time they flew into Class C they got out the plane on landing and turned in their license (I kid you not). They couldn’t believe what they had flown into. But the main reason was this is a mixture of a bucket list item and I need a brain stretch/personal development. I want a challenge.

Providence is also a Part 141 school – more structured syllabus and more FAA oversight. NOTHING wrong with Part 61 schools – you have to get past the same FAA examiner when the time comes – but the 141 internal discipline, class rooms, their maintenance and spare planes means serviceability is high and there is an air of professionalism. Part 61 schools can also be professional.

Since I’ve got into it – I’ve also discovered that the local Part 61 school’s limited taxiways means you can spend a lot of time taxiing back down the runway you landed on. Expensive and breaks the rhythm of what you are trying to achieve. Providence and surrounding Quonset, North Central, and a slew of other airports to the West means you will always get somewhere that suits the weather after just 6 mins or so flying.

Controllers are just fine to deal with. I went to an FAAST briefing about Boston Class B one night. The point being made was it is a partnership in which both parties make the safety if you work together. And you just need to ask them to repeat because you didn’t get it and they are just great – slow down a little and really do try to help. You can visit the local Class C tower if you call and ask. The Sporty’s VFR Communications DVD is quite a good primer on procedure.

A good tip I got is to keep your top radio stack for air frequencies like Approach/Departure and Tower and bottom stack for ground frequencies like ATIS/UNICOM/CTAF/Ground and Departure. Helps you keep your world a bit better managed.

Initially it was all a bit confusing but now I don’t even think about it! The first time I visited a non-towered field with self announcing on the CTAF – I felt like a babbling idiot!

So I’d just returned from an FAA WINGS safety briefing about Class B airspace around Boston – given by the Boston controllers with interesting slides of their radar presentations and some “war stories”. A key point repeatedly made – safety if the product of the controllers and pilots working together. They need to help each other.

So on my next lesson I was brimming with the desire to be part of the team. At 9 miles out I was cleared for the option with – “Right base to Runway 23 and RIGHT closed traffic after the touch and go”

9 miles later and a flight down 5000ft of the 7166ft length at 1ft off the ground in ground effect with wheels skimming occasionally – I climbed out and accidently flew LEFT closed traffic. So much for being part of the team……. I was half way across the crosswind when the controller caught it. It wasn’t dreadful – he could vector me into the pattern again with the other school plane that was flying left closed traffic – but it seemed to throw him for a loop. We mixed it with the regionals and the other school plane. The controlling got a little raggy. The other school plane flew a DREADFUL landing and was actually ordered to go around by the controller at one point (like he couldn’t figure it himself!). Then a third General Aviation aircraft arrived from the north and kept replying that he was cleared to land – when the controller was clearly telling him he was not! Oh it all got exciting.

As I made another approach with the option I announced we would make this a full stop. My instructor raised an eyebrow. I explained I’d made a “Pilot in Command” decision and that I thought it was time to get out while the going was good and to give the controller a chance to sort things out. I was just trying to team play. The instructor agreed! We came in 5 mins early!

“Air Graeme” is pleased to announce the success of their first NIGHT cross country mission – flown from Providence to New Haven and back again during the late evening of January 31st, 2011.

Completed at an average ground speed of 100 knots – the mission came in 2 knots faster than predicted with an elapsed time of 4 hours of which 190 mins was spent with the prop spinning. The unusual length of the total mission was because the first aircraft became unserviceable at start up and another had to be pre-flighted and brought out to the flight line. Notwithstanding this minor technical difficulty the mission was considered a complete success.

Thanks to friend Sheri Miller for the “Air Graeme” mascot – she is talented with a needle and thread.

Sat morning – 290 at 7 knots, 15F/-10C, 10 Miles plus visibility – we have Visual Flight Rules and are just in cold weather operating limits. Let’s try for breakfast in Fitchburg, MA followed by some accelerated stalls and landings. Wonder what Greg my instructor will have in mind? I take him in the Flight Plan I have prepared. He reviews it. OK’s it and off we go.

FANTASTIC smooth air – clear for 50 miles in all directions blue sky flight, first down on freshly plowed runway 32 at Fitchburg. Couple of circuits – in for breakfast, some more circuits then back to the Scituate Training Area for accelerated stalls and power on stalls. Back down in Providence. 3.6 hours and 7 take offs and landings in the logbook. The nav plan worked out beautifully, VOR tracking was right on the money and we even remembered to close our flight plan with Flight Service before they came looking for us. It just doesn’t get any better on days like this when the aircraft performs so well in the dense cold air.

“Wet” aircraft rental for flight out and back – $135 per hour
Instructor $55 per hour
(Out and back was about 1.5 hours)
Breakfast for two with generous tip – $25
Landing fess – remember that generous tip? No fees.

Total $310 / 2 = $155 per breakfast.

So I’m preparing cross country flights and laying my plotter on the sectional chart. To my seagoing navigation eye it looks like the parallels of latitude are slightly curved instead of the straight I’m used to. I look in the title box on the chart. No mention of the projection used. I dig around and find it is Lambert’s Conical. A little more reading.

The Mercator projection that used to hang on the elementary school room wall – latitude and longitude lines are straight, parallel and at right angles to each other. The distortion at the poles is horrific and a Great Circle route is drawn as a curved line. Charles Lindeburg figured this out in the week before his flight across the Atlantic while studying navigation for his trip in the local library. He prepared a series of courses on his school room map of the Atlantic and flew for an hour at each heading – adjusting slightly on his chart every hour and (rather amazingly) found Ireland and then Paris. This is the practice at sea – where you move relatively slowly and have time to figure this stuff out and alter course on the distorted paper chart every few hours. There are some other useful sides to Mercator projection for plotting star and sun sights which is why it is still used at sea.

But as flying speeds increased this method became a PIA and the Lambert conical projection was used for flying. A line drawn between two points in a straight line is essentially a Great Circle route and this avoids the need to fly constantly changing courses across the distorted Mercator chart. But there IS a gotcha – because of the way the projection is laid on the paper – Yep – the LATITUDE lines on sectionals ARE slightly curved. Lambert Conical Projection at work. But an upside to Lambert (as with Mercator) is that you can use the LATITUDE (but not Lon) scale as a Nautical Mile scale.

It actually gets alluded to on page 4-42 of the Jeppsen Private Pilot Book book without going into detail.

More about it – two fifths of the way down this page where the Civil Air Patrol discuss how to draw the correct slightly curved lines to grid a sectional for Search and Rescue Operations.

and more at Wikipedia

Dawn lesson – A cross country trip (meaning more than 50 miles) from Providence to Chester in Connecticut. Principal part of the lesson – pilotage – meaning looking outside to see where you are compared to the chart. 10 min pilotage prep and go. Scored practical test standards first trip out. Not exactly hard when you can look down on everything from 4,500 ft compared to trying it from sea level in a boat!

Chester is totally cute. Like back in time to the 1950’s with lots of old but beautifully kept airplanes under the open sided hanger. Spot the white picket fence at the far left end!

Runway needed short field landing technique and short field take off to get back out. 34 mins to get there and 15 mins to get back by staying low in the small headwind on the trip out and going high for the strong tailwind on the way back.

Blew my first landing at Providence and went around. Greased the second one! Back in the groove for landings – I hope!

Saturday briefing – pick a suitable airport for the conditions that you would like to fly to for breakfast!

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.