Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Flights 2 & 3

Since I had started in late July, and the soaring season fades away in September, I thought I would stretch out my 5-pack over the rest of the summer, then go at it in earnest in 2006.

I arrived at the club nice and early for my second flight. John taught me how to do the Daily Inspection on the 2-33 (actually, John did the DI, but we both did the looking in all the nooks and crannies). We pulled out the tractor, towed the gliders to the flight line, got out the tow ropes, and generally got things ready for the day. Because I was first there, I was first to fly.

As a new student, flying early in the morning is a Good Thing. There is a lack of thermals, as the sun has not yet warmed the earth sufficiently, so the flights are smoother, and you can understand the effect of the controls without bouncing all over the sky in rough air. Straight and level flight is possible, even with a rookie on the stick.

So up we went, where we glided back to earth over a too-short period of time. While up there I tried to figure out how to manage the ship in three dimensions: Control speed using pitch, and control yaw using the rudder. I did much better than on my first flight.

We approached 1000' AGL, and headed for home, entering the circuit at about 850' AGL, through the circuit, and John brought us in for a landing.

Then the surprise. We towed the 2-33 back to the flight line, and I took my second flight of the day immediately, even though there were others waiting. I heard later that this was an encouragement for the students to come out early in the day... two flights before noon guaranteed, no waiting. Personally, I would have liked to have waited a little longer so maybe there would have been a few thermals up there.....

The two flights in succession made a big difference... by the end of the second flight of the day I was doing coordinated turns (shallow and medium bank), flying in an almost-straight line, recovered from a slow stall from straight flight, and while trying to fly a constant speed I wasn't yo-yo-ing through sky in Pilot-Induced-Oscillation (that's a fancy phrase for over-correction, going to fast, then over-correcting and going too slow, then nose down and too fast, and so forth).

Clearly, if one is going to get better, time on the stick was going to be the big factor.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Look, then launch

This is old hat to any pilot, but for an ab initio such as myself the business of a daily inspection and the pre-flight was a new concept.

When I drive a car, I walk out of the house, lock the door, unlock the car, get in, fasten seatbelt, start, and drive off. Check the oil? If the light doesn't go off after the engine starts I'll worry about it then. Flat tire? The thumping noise will alert me.

But when you fly, before every day's flight there is a Daily Inspection. And before every flight the ship gets pre-flighted.

Daily Inspection follows a checklist, and at my club we keep the book (one page per day) in a ziplock baggie under the pilot's seat. The day of my second flight I showed up at the field rather early, and John (my instructor from my first flight) was already there. His first comment was "hi, glad you're here, let's put you to work." And so we walked over the 2-33 and we went through the DI. First the canopy cover and tie-downs are removed, and we go over every inch of the aircraft. Every hinge, every support, every cable, every pin is examined to make sure everything that should be present, is present.

If interupted, you go back to where you know have checked, and restart from the checkpoint. Checking something twice is much preferable to missing something.

We finish by giving the end of the wing a good shake and bouncing things around, just to see if everything bounces in syncronization. Hook up the tractor and pull it out to the flightline.

If you're not happy about anything, you get a second opinion. The ship does not fly until it passes the DI.

In addition, before every flight the Pilot In Command (PIC) is responsible for giving the aircraft the quick once-over before the flight. During the DI we remove inspection panels and peek in the corners -- the pre-flight is a quick once-over in comparison, just to ensure there was no damage resulting from the previous flight.

More learning lessons from the flightline. I must check my tire pressure and engine oil more often than quarterly.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Uniform or Umbrella?

I'm writing this in February (when I'm taking the ground school), and my first 5 flights were last summer, so the first blog entries are going to involve a little bit of time-warping until I finally get caught up.

In last week's ground school we covered radio work. The aerodrome where I've flown is uncontrolled, so there is no chatter to the tower because there is no tower. However, we have a radio in each glider, in the tow plane, and one at the shack where we do the paperwork and figure out who is going up next, so the radio is in active use. Each glider announces when they enter the circuit, as does the towplane when entering the circuit, backtracking on the runway, etc.

The other use of the radio is to call the shack when you've been up for an hour in one of the club-owned gliders.... if there is someone waiting for the ship then you have to come down (club rule), but if there is no waiting list then you can continue flying.

And so we learned about nine vs. niner, and the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc). Constant practice is necessary... I find that expressing car license plates works well when stuck in rush hour. allows you to listen to ATC - someone living near an airport has hooked up a radio scanner to their computer and fed the audio to this website, who then feed it to you. You'll notice there is no idle chatter, and the efficiency of the communication.

Back to reading license plates. And trying to remember that it's Uniform, not Umbrella.

The radio operator's exam is at the last night of the ground school.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pilot Decision Making

On my first flight I realized how much I didn't know (it doesn't matter how much Flight Simulator you fly, it isn't the Real Thing). Pilot Decision Making was the most surprising eye-opener.

As we started the takeoff roll, John started talking about "if we abort the takeoff now, we'll just land on the runway ahead of us".

Then that changed to "if we have to release now we'd ditch in the river". Can't we make it to the other side? "Nope, we're going to get wet".

Then "we'd land straight ahead on the grass at the sod farm". And finally "we'd turn around and land downwind". Finally, "we'd find a thermal and try to stay up here, otherwise we'll join the pattern and land".

This is Pilot Decision Making: the constant evaluation of where you are, what your situation is or could become, and what your options might be. It is also the "O" in CISTRSCO -- what are my Options?

I've had my driver's license for about 34 years. When I took driver's ed way back in my teens one of the lessons was "always leave yourself an out": Don't get boxed into a situation where, if something goes wrong, you have no options except to have a Really Bad Day.

Thanks to Lesson#1 (and lots of subsequent reading) I realized that I now drive in an empty-headed manner... I get in the car, point it where I want to go, disengage brain, and somehow we get to the destination. If something looks strange then I re-engage, analyze and (if necessary) react. Merging traffic from the right? Oh. Maybe I should move over a lane.

And sometimes I arrive at my destination convinced that the car drove itself, because I sure wasn't around for the trip.

Part of this is very good, and I will achieve flying in this manner: Rather than using a front-of-mind thinking analyzing method of driving/flying (which leads to overcontrol, and doesn't leave a lot of bandwidth for any other processing), driving/flying becomes second nature, and you "wear" the aircraft from here to there. Rather than thinking "OK, I'm turning left, I need to do this with the rudder pedals, and this with the stick, and do my visual checking for traffic starting here, and what's my airspeed, and from which direction is the wind blowing", you Just Do It.

But: When driving I need to be constantly engaging my mind regarding the situation, the issues, the options, and what the preferred action would be. I've become far too lazy when driving - the autopilot is on, and the brain is off. This is all proportional: on a long-distance drive on a limited-access highway with limited traffic, you relax and go with the flow. In stop&go traffic, or a congested city street, you stay very engaged.

On the ground you can get away with a lower level of attention: There is only one degree of freedom (left/right), and one translation (forward speed). In case of engine failure the worst that will immediately happen is that you're going to slow down and stop on the side of the road.

I thought I was going to learn to fly. I didn't expect lessons to carry-over into the rest of my life. Neat.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Wear Sunscreen: Flight 1

July 24 2005

Nearly all Soaring Schools (Gliding Clubs) offer introductory flight packages. The most common options are a single flight (up you go, you get to hold the stick and fly around until the air runs out), or a 5-pack (which counts as your first five flying lessons). The introductory flight is usually offered in one of the snazzy modern-looking gliders, and the 5-pack is offered in the rugged trainer that everyone starts learning in.

And this was the decision I was offered when I showed up at the club. In effect, am I going up as a one-hit wonder, and see if I like it? Or am I going to start taking lessons and working towards getting my license? I'm an analytic, and I've had no time to analyze.... two hours ago I was having lunch on the patio and thinking I'd be at home cutting the grass this afternoon.

I went with the heart, and I signed up for the 5-pack. Money paid, and (of course) the legal releases were signed.

Nancy (my wife) had done her homework, and out of the back of the car came a bottle of SPF-45, a hat, and a few bottles of water. And a book for her to read in the shade.

When you're in a glider, you're sitting under a plexiglas canopy with a terrific view in every direction (the better to see other aircraft), and there is zero shade. Zilch. Nada. I'm a redhead, and under a July sun it takes me about 10 minutes to start burning.

And so sunscreen is mandatory. Wearing a hat (no baseball caps, please, they cut off your view of part of the sky) is strongly urged. And the field is hot, and failing to stay hydrated significantly affects your reflexes and alertness (I'll speak about this more after I complete the ground-school session on the medical factors of flight).

John, the instructor for the day, coached me as I did the pre-flight (CISTRSCO -- more about that later). I had no idea what I was doing, or why, but under John's very detailed supervision a proper pre-flight was done. The tow plane applied power, we headed down runway 08, and within a very short distance we were flying at an altitude of a few feet as we waited for the towplane to get enough speed to get off the ground.

I released at about 2300 feet (2,000 AGL), and we dipsy-doodled around the sky upwind of the runway, found a few mild thermals, and I was introduced to some gliding basics.

The first flying lesson was limited to the very basic elements of gliding: flying straight, adjusting pitch to maintain a constant speed, gentle turns, learning to scan the sky in a thorough and methodical manner, and constantly exercising Pilot Decision Making. We did a gentle stall (the 2-33 did the recovery for us by dropping the nose as the stall approached), and an abrupt stall (pull back the stick sharply, lose speed, drop like a stone, and the pilot does the recovery).

When driving a car you manage two factors: how fast are you going (presumably forward) and direction (left/right). When flying you manage six factors, consisting of three rotary motions (pitch, roll and yaw), and three translations (logitudinal speed, lateral speed, and vertical speed). Which is a long-winded way of saying that I completely forgot to use the rudder, so I flew the stick and John managed the yaw by working the rudder pedal. If there were any coordinated turns while I had control, it was the result of John's dexterity, not mine.

Then, as we approached minimum altitude we entered the circuit. The radio is in the front seat so I did the radio call: John calling out a phrase, I echoed into the microphone, repeat.

A sideslip or two to lose some altitude, half-spoilers, onrushing ground (I don't think I lifted up my feet as we got closer), touchdown and rollout.

Lesson #1 complete. More on the details in the next postings.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I used to have a boss, early in my career, who never had a birthday -- he had a birthweek. By the end of the week he looked like he would bleed to death through his eyeballs.

I also have problems getting my annual celebrations completed in one day: now that my kids are not all living at home the birthday celebration seems to move to the nearest free date, and sometimes there are multiple celebrations (usually a dinner somewhere) depending on when/if they come to visit.

On the day of my 50th, my wife organized a surprise party for me. We were supposed to have one couple over for a BBQ and a swim, but an hour later the doorbell started ringing. Fooled me completely. Good on her.

Two days later (July 24th 2005) my wife, my at-home daughter, and my no-longer-at-home daughter (and her boyfriend) had lunch with me at the Ritz on the Canal. It was a hot and sunny summer day, and we enjoyed lunch sitting on the patio in the sun with the boats floating by on the Rideau Canal. Then came the little cake with the sparkler in it, and daughter K gave me a computer-generated birthday card with a really weird poem. Mega weird. Ummm, thanks. I didn't want to say something like "this looks like what you used to write when you were in grade 2."

Then she gave me the "gift certificate". The Soaring School doesn't sell gift certificates per se, so K generated her own, telling me I could redeem it by going to the Soaring School and signing up for a glider flight.

I was gobsmacked.

When picking a birthday present, sometimes you hit a foul, usually you connect for a single or a double. My family had tagged this one out of the park.

The "gift certificate" basically said I was to go to the School and pay my own money for my own present, so the monetary value of the piece of paper in my hand was nil. But they gave me what I really needed to start on my journey into flight: a kick in the pants and the command to go do something.

I guess they got tired of hearing me talk about flying, and decided that it was time to stop talking and start flying.

Over 40+ years I never gave myself permission to take the first step. In my 50th year, my family did.

And so it begins.......

Start of the journey

I'm a just-over-50 MWM with a (so-far) unfulfilled dream -- to be a pilot.

There never seemed to be a good time to get started on my ticket. There was always a different priority, or not enough money, or too much busy-ness elsewhere in my life. Or something. But I never stopped thinking about taking those steps and getting my license.

I was one of those nerdy kids growing up in the early 60's who loved anything to do with aviation, flying, airplanes, spacecraft, science fiction, astronauts, and anything else with (or without) wings, as long as it was off the ground. TV shows included Star Trek, Lost in Space ("danger Will Robinson"), My Favorite [sic] Martian, It's About Time, The Jetson's. I had posters on my bedroom walls of Gemini/Titan rockets blasting off the pad, group photos of the original seven, and a poster of the cockpit of an aircraft with thousands of knobs, buttons, dials and (steam) guages. I wanted to fly, and I talked about it, but it remained an interest and I never managed to turn talk into action.

Through the teen years there were many distractions, including sports, academics, girls. And no knowledge - I had no idea how to turn an idea into an action.

In the university years there was no money. And it would have been difficult to manage the "8 hours from bottle to throttle" while living in residence.

Then came marriage, with a wife that I loved spending time with, who had not the slightest interest in flying, so I could either be with her or be off doing something alone. Hmmm, maybe later.

And then came a career doing work that I loved, with the hours required.

Then children, with the attendent responsibilities, and a feeling that the timing was not right to start an expensive and riskier-than-average hobby.

Many years passed, but I never stopped talking about flying, and reading about flying. My kids thought I was the smartest man around when we'd be fishing from the shore of a lake, and a plane would fly overhead and I'd look up and say "that's a Boeing 727". When we were flying somewhere on vacation and a clunk came from somewhere under the aircraft they'd look to dad wondering what fell off, and I'd re-assure them it was just the normal sound of the landing gear lowering.

Excuses or reasons or procrastination or a failure to make a dream come true? All of the above, I guess. But the years were busy and productive, so I'd like to think that flying just never managed to percolate to the top of the to-do list.

That ended two days after my fiftieth birthday, courtesy of my son in particular, and my family in general. But that's the next post.