Saturday, September 30, 2006

A really awful takeoff

Apparently I am starting to get a handle on this thing called flying... I wasn't happy with today's (September 30th 2006) performance. Maybe that means I am starting to have a clue. Minimal skills, but at least a clue about what should be happening.

Once again, paperwork and pre-flight went fine. On the checklists I have to just relax and let the checklist do the work.. stop thinking ahead and do the item we're doing (different checklists will revisit the same item, and I get ahead of myself).

My taxiing was quite good. I followed the lines, didn't cut any corners, and was nice and smooth throughout. Very little drunken sailor wandering. The post-flight feedback was to trust the rudder, and touch the brake only if I'm not swinging the way I want to -- don't touch the brakes as the first step. At least I don't ride the brakes.

The wind was somewhat variable, pretty much 90 degrees abeam the runway. The instructor asked me to make the call whether to use runway 10 or 28. The wind made it a coin flip, but the last few flights had landed on runway 10, so I decided to go with the flow and called runway 10.

About halfway down on the backtrack the wind swung 30 degrees to tailwind and decided to stay there, so I decided to switch, made the radio call, backtracked, and setup for the takeoff on 28. So far, quite good. The runway is less than 4000 feet long so it requires only one windsock... but sheesh, there are two taxiways, put up two windsocks!

Previous takeoffs have resulted in a lot of veering to the left on application of full power, so I was ready this time. Too ready, too much rudder. On the takeoff roll I zigged and zagged all over the place, finally dragged the nose off the blacktop and prayed we'd be airborne before we were sideways. Clearly - circuits are not for a few more lessons. Once we were off the ground I got the ship stable and pointy-end first.

The climbout was pretty good. I swung about 10 degrees left, rather than my usual 30. But I maintained best rate of climb reasonably well on a day where we were bouncing through the thermals.

Todays lesson was turning, so we went through gentle/15, medium/30 and steep/45 turns. By the end of the lesson I was making the turns and losing (or gaining) less than 100 feet. And one turn I remained spot-on altitude. My gentle turns were fine, I tended to be cautious on the medium turns (perhaps 25 degrees from time to time), and the instructor said my steep turns were sometimes closer to 60 degrees rather than 45 -- I guess I wasn't shy on those. Flying the Eclipse one needs to add power for the steep turns only. Memo to self: Keep the eyes outside, straight ahead, and maintain the bank angle and the pitch (airspeed).

We did climbing and descending turns, (slow-speed) canyon turns, and collision avoidance turns. And we reviewed climbs and descents, and of course there was lots of practice of straight&level flight while we reviewed and planned. As usual, I did all the flying, except for the demonstrations.

The collision avoidance turn was something special.. since there was no imminent collision we dropped the speed to 100 kts to reduce stress on the airframe, and did a good lookout. When it is time to turn.... slam the power to idle, right rudder to the floorboards and stick to the right, a hard 60 degree bank turn, about 45 degrees through the turn pull back on the elevators to pull you through the turn and apply full power.. and come out at a 90 degree turn with minimal altitude loss. And don't be suprised if the stall warning horn goes off. It is a pretty exciting 2 seconds. First time I banged my way through it. The second time I was much more smooth, and came out having lost about 50 feet and was pretty much spot on a 90 degree rotation. So we did one more just to make sure. You know you've really slammed it through the avoidance technique when the Directional Gyro is spinning like a top when you're done. My wife had dinner-plate wide eyes when I described it to her when I got home. I hope to fly these in practice only.

Interesting observation: My turns at the start of the flight were mostly eye-out, but with a bit of instrument scanning to double-check. Then I was switched to correct technique, keeping the eyes out all the time. At the end of the flight, as we were resetting to our practice area after the collision avoidance turns, I was eyes-out, glancing the instruments from time to time just to find out where I was, and not to assist with the flying. My altitude stayed reasonable constant. It's coming.

We had one aircraft come scooting through the practice area unannounced, perhaps 500 feet below us and a half mile south. Everyone in the practice area was doing a good job announcing where they were and what altitudes they were working, and this guy zips through without a peep. S/he might have been on YOW's frequency, or NORDO, or monitoring and decided to keep quiet since they were a distance away. Or oblivious. I'm glad we were not doing stall and spin recovery (movements where there is a lot of altitude loss, in a short time).

And it got interesting on the approach into CYRP. We had four aircraft converging at once, as well as two for takeoff. We were coming from the north, a Katana from the southwest, one more from the northwest, and someone else wanted to land on runway 22 (the unpaved runway) and they were somewhere north of the airport but at a lower altitude, and wanting to fly through the left-hand circuit. We were first, so we flew over&back, ran the circuit, and led the parade. After the three of us got down, rwy 22 did their landing.

The wind was solid from the south now, and I did a decent job of aligning the runway and set up a crab of about 20 degrees to counter the wind. But I was wayyyyy high, and I wasn't sure I wanted to lose the crab and flare all at once when I hadn't managed a nice flare yet. So at about three hundred feet I just stated "no sense being a hero, you have control" and the instructor did the landing. Once we were stable on the ground the instructor handed control back to me and I finished up.

So where am I? Well, with no flying for 8 days I felt rusty in the seat.. the burn rate through my credit card hurts when you fly twice a week, but the frequent practice does prevent the rust. I did have a good chance to re-read the last few lessons and internalize the knowledge. And we put 1.5 more hours in my book, since we took the time to review everything (explicitly or implicitly) from the previous lessons (it is cheaper to take an extra half hour and review, than to book an extra 1 hour discrete lesson). I'm pretty ham-handed, but getting smoother and more "minimalist" in my control techniques.

This week will be a busy one at work, and the following week I am travelling, so (weather willing) I will book a lesson on a weeknight later this week. Probably 1.5 hours instead of 2 hours, due to the shorter days.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Things to improve on

Since I'm writing this blog for me not you, this is a list of the items I have noticed that I am doing poorly, clumsily, wrong or incomplete. I hope to look back in a few months time and laugh at today's amateur techniques.

It is amazing to watch a qualified pilot take the controls, and with economy of effort take the aircraft from my gyrations to smooth, level and coordinated flight. It must be amusing for an instructor to watch a student struggle to perform a skill which is, to them, as simple as walking. And to not cringe, asp or grab the stick.

My improvement list:
  • When taxiing, don't go from here to there just because it is an open path. Always track the yellow taxi line. It happens to not matter now, but in the winter when there could be ice, or snowbanks, or at a different airport where there could be a higher sign at the edge of the taxiway, it could matter.
  • Before leaving the run-up area and entering the taxiway, radio intentions ("will hold short of runway 28") so a landing aircraft does not get nervous that I might just go straight onto the runway (I'm at an uncontrolled airport).
  • Think-through my take-off contingency planning. Do this while in the run-up area when we'll be taking off on runway 28 (and there is only 30 second of backtracking). For runway 10 we have to backtrack the length, so there is lots of time for discussion during the positioning. I learned to do this in a glider ("if the tow-rope breaks now then we will ...."), I'm getting to the point in my learning curve where I have the capacity to do this in a powered aircraft.
  • When backtracking after landing, or making the turn at the end of the runway prior to takeoff, turn to the left for better visibility. I suppose that, if there is a meaningful crosswind, then you might turn to the right - I'll ask the instructor next lesson.
  • When applying power for takeoff apply right rudder to counter the yaw from the propwash. I tend to drift to the left and takeoff from there. I need to track the centreline on the takeoff roll.
  • On the takeoff climb, again, use the rudder. I tend to circle/fade to the left due to the uncontrolled yaw. Glance at the DG, since the nose blocks the external view.
  • In a glider the rudder is used to control yaw when in a turn. In the DA20 the rudder is generally not used in a gentle or medium turn, as the aircraft is coordinated. But it is used to control yaw when required (usually power changes, or high rates/angles of climb at full power). I need to re-learn when to use it (and to not use the aerlirons when I should be using rudder).
  • My altitude and directional control tends to be superior towards the end of a flight. Probably because I've settled in and am just flying the airplane using senses and peripheral vision, as opposed to watching the altimeter.
  • Keep working on developing the sense of flying the aircraft from eyes-outside (perspective to the horizon) instead of instrument-watching. Do some instrument-glancing, but not watching. When I drive down the highway I don't stare at the speedometer to maintain speed, I have a sense of how fast I am going just by looking at the surroundings. In an airplane this will come, with time.
  • Gentle movements on the stick. At all times, but especially when setting up for the landing.

So what is going well?

  • Situational awareness, and staying ahead of the aircraft. The saying is that no aircraft should arrive at a point that your brain has not been to five minutes earlier. My anticipation has been good, although my mental loading has not yet been stress-tested so I've had the bandwidth to do the thinking.
  • Eyes outside the airplane. My sky-scanning (for other aircraft) tends to be very good - good technique, good percentage of time with eyes outside.
  • Radio work: It has been good to work the radio and fly at the same time. I've gotten most of the calls right (or, at least, close). I have to think-through the call before I make it as it does not come naturally yet, but that's a good practice anyway, to conserve air time.
  • Paperwork, W+B, pre-flighting.
  • Taxiing is coming along nicely. I wander a bit, and I have not taxied much in a cross-wind, but it is getting better (this aircraft has rudder and differential brakes to steer - the nosewheel is castered and non-directional).
  • Straight-and-level flight continues to need work, but I see improvement. The directional control and yaw control is pretty good, though the altitude control is more corrective than managed. And I have not even tried to worry about managing the ground-track in a wind, I'm just correcting for the drift when I get too far from the road.
  • Gauge and instrument monitoring is good. I scan frequently, and remember to set the DG to the compass from time to time. I'm not getting any comments from the instructor reminding me to do this (he probably wouldn't remind me at this stage anyway, just to prevent mental overload).
  • Keeping my eyes outside the aircraft, and not gauge-watching. This is why post-it notes cover gauges during training. The sense at attitude and speed and bank angle comes with practice, and developing the "sense". More seat time is required, but it is coming along.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Up & Down

I had a great flight. Actually, the shine is still on and I'm wet behind the ears and I'm fulfilling a dream, so they're all great flights.

Because my employer expects me to actually work for a living, I'm not available during the business day. Because of my volunteer work with soccer, this week and all of this weekend are fully consumed, meaning a long gap between lessons. And so I asked the instructor if he could start a lesson at 7AM. No problem. I like this guy, and this school.

The phone rang at 6:10. Brendon was up, had checked the weather, and we might have a problem. At this time of the year there is a good chance of fog first thing in the morning, and there was patchy fog reported in the area. Everything looked good out the window, but Carp Airport is closer to the Ottawa River, so there may be local fog.

I arrived at 6:55. Today was climbs and descents (exercises 7&8).

The chalk-talk, paperwork and pre-flight took an hour. One would think that ascents and descents are simple - point the nose where you want to go, and go there. Like seemingly everything in flying, if you do it right it looks simple, but behind the simple is a lot of knowledge, technique and practice. Most of which I don't know - yet.

But you'll read all about that stuff in just about blog and student manual. I'm Canadian. I want to talk about the weather.

This morning was simply wonderful. The air was cool and crisp. No haze, no smog, bright sun, few clouds, no wind, no chop, no traffic. We bobbed up and down (we were practicing ascent&descent, remember?) and enjoyed the bright sun and the changing tree colours. It was a joyful day to be up and around.

Oh yeah - I did the landing too. Setup was good, the flare was a bit clumsy, but we got on the ground with only one minor bounce.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I am having far too much fun at work. The guy in the next cubicle has a great a love of flight as I do. He's taken several fam flights, groundschool (twice), as well as some lessons.

But, for a wide variety of reasons, he hasn't followed through.

Of course, I am only too pleased to keep him updated on my progress.

His response: "Bastage". Itappeers his speeling isn't tu gud.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Great Landing

Today's lesson was scheduled for 8-10am. The long-range weather forecast said yesterday and today were going to be bright&sunny. Yesterday was. But the overnight temperature met the dew point, there was overnight fog, and today dawned cloudy with a base of 3100'

We started with the paperwork, with a photocopy of my birth certificate and my radio operator (restricted) permit, which I had received as the result of successfully passing the test during gliding ground school. I suspect not many students show up at lesson#1 with that permit in hand!!

I did the weight&balance calculations. Note to self: Lose 30 pounds. With a full tank we were 36 pounds under maximum weight.

We reviewed exercises #5 and #6, and headed to the aircraft.

I did the pre-flight inspection under the instructor's watchful eye, pushed the ship out of the hangar and to the apron, climbed aboard and started the checklists.

The checklists are getting easier. In some cases they are not very specific. For example, the checklist will say "Avionics", and I have to remember that what we are checking is that after landing the transponder has switched itself from ALT (transmit altitude) to STBY (standby).

Rather than watch a flurry of button-pushing, I set up the GPS unit. Apparently the Garmin website has a simulator that you can download, which I will do this afternoon.

As for the flying: the instructor demonstrated a few things (aerliron yaw), and up some odd attitudes from which I had to recover, but of the 1.2 Hobbs hours it was my hand on the stick for at least 1.1.

I did the takeoff (needed a reminder on when to rotate, I need to scan the AI during the roll, until I develop the speed sense).

I made all of the radio calls (mistake on one, where there was some ambiguity).

And I did the landing!!! I was a bit lower and slower in the final than I should have been so I had to add a bit of power. I started my rotation a bit early (quite normal, I am told), and the instructor corrected. And we ended up on the runway so I didn't have a chance to fly along at a foot or two and bleed off airspeed. No bounce, though it was a bit hard.

Humour: The definition of a good landing is one you can walk away from. The definition of a great landing is one where the airplane can be used again.

All in all, a pretty good day at school. Now it time for homework and review.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading ahead

My first official lesson is tomorrow morning.

As I enter my pilot training, I have been doing some reading up on the different methods of learning, other student's experiences, and tales from pilots as posted on blogs, chat boards, etc. Regardless of what I read or where I read it, the one trend which shows, again and again, is preparation.

Pilots of things that go fast talk about staying ahead of the airplane - basically, they go so fast that by the time they realize they must turn, it's too late - they needed to be ahead of the aircraft and start reacting to something before the ship gets to that point.

Pilot training is all about preparation. Weather training is about preparing for the flight - getting forecasts, determing what is waiting enroute and at the destination, and how it will change by the time you get there. Managing the hardware is all about preventing things from going wrong (pre-flight inspections, checking the oil, etc.), and detecting what is happening as they go wrong (hmmm, RPM drop might indicate carb icing - you don't wait for the engine to stop before responding). And so forth. In my university undergrad days the norm was to show up at class cold and perhaps hung-over, be taught, then go home and read the chapters, do the assignments, and repeat. Pre-reading was rare. [Though, for my graduate studies, the opposite was true - there was always preparation to be done, and there were only two classes where I arrived unprepared].

For pilot training, you come prepared. For my lessons, the lesson plan is laid out, the reading is assigned, and I usually do some extra Internet reading as well. Aside from allowing me to maximize the actual lesson time (and therefore maximize my dollars), it teaches the flying culture: Be prepared. Unlike driving, where you you hop into the vehicle and go.

And so I'm reading the manuals. Start at page one, do the required reading, go a chapter or two ahead (in case we achieve the lesson goals quickly and do something extra), review, do the lesson, then go home and review the reading and internalize everything. Repeat.

This is fun.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Fam Flight #2, Takeoff #1

I booked a second familiarization flight with Flight School #2. There was nothing highly analytic about it - it turns out that I know the husband of the owner quite well. They have new aircraft, not 34 year old Cessnas. And they hangar their aircraft every evening, which is really going to matter when the winter arrives and there is overnight precip, and student#1 gets to remove the accumulation on any aircraft left outside.

But I had not flown with the other instructor, and so I booked the second fam flight.

My capabilities have progressed since the last flight. I did the pre-flight inspection, and I asked about what and why and interactions (all instructors can fly, I wanted to see how this instructor instructs). Very sharing, but also very perceptive to the level of my interrogation, he gives the right level of detail.

I did the checklists and the start. After my clumsiness taxiing last time I asked him to do the taxi from the apron to the run-up area (no sense bending anything in a crowded area). I then did all the driving and stickwork from that point onwards, including backtracking to the end of the runway, the takeoff, all flying, and aligning for the landing (I would have followed through and done the landing, and he was willing, but I didn't feel that I had stabilized the approach well enough so I asked him to take control at about 150'). He did the landing, I did the run-out and all taxiing until power-off.

All the checklists, pre, post and during, were mine - item by item I wanted to know what we were checking, what it was supposed to be, and any inter-relationships.

And I got the Transport Canada student flight manual. I'm committed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Decisions, decisions

A detailed search for flight training centres in southern Ontario (thanks COPA!) reveals 5 flight schools (at the introductory level) in the city of Ottawa, with another two in nearby small towns (one is a 45 minute drive from where I live, the other 30 minutes). This gives me 7 credible choices, since three of the in-city choices are more than 45 minutes away. So all 7 are candidates.

A quick Internet search reveals that they all basically charge the same unit amount. All websites estimate the cost of getting a ticket based on Transport Canada minimums, some live in the real world and state what the realistic cost will be (this was my first filter on which school I would choose). Some are club-based, some not, but the club membership fees are small so this is not a factor.

However, 2 of the schools are at the GA airport which is a 10-minute drive from home. Even better, it is only a 5-minute diversion from my driving route to/from work (I am a 12 minute drive from work nyaa nyaa nyaa). These are my primary candidates, and are the ones I visited last Friday.

What to ask? How to decide? With questions in hand, I visited the two schools.

At the first school (FS#1) I was greeted by the mechanic, who came out of the maintenance hanger. Youngish, but gave a strong impression that he cared about his job and customer service. Carried a big wrench with him as he showed me the office, explained that the owner had gone out for a sandwich, and took me to the rack of information about the RPP, PPL, etc. There were for-sale ads on the bulletin board, and a whiteboard on the wall in the office had each aircraft's total time and the next scheduled maintenance time. A couple came in with a young boy ("time to go watch the airplanes") and asked if they could use the washroom - no problem. The owner came back and I chatted with him for nearly half an hour, getting answers to all my questions. The training aircraft are a 1972 C172, a 1972 C150, and another C150 that is coming up for a major overhaul so they are probably going to replace with a C172. They had four part-time instructors, and a dozen students for the two aircraft. Overall impression: Very customer oriented, comfortable, laid-back yet professional.

The second school (FS#2) is a new one. They have two full-time instructors, one of which greeted me in the office. He was wearing a name badge and a tie. They have three training aircraft, two new Diamond Eclipse DA-20, and they still had the "new" smell. And one C150. They have brochures for the aircraft, well-printed handouts, and a computerized, web-enabled reservation system. For the two trainers they had 30 active students. Overall impression: This is a crisply-run organization that wants my business.

I booked a familiarization flight with FS#2, for Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning I arrive 15 minutes before my 10AM booking. At 9:55 the other instructor (who is the CFI) arrive from the previous lession. My fam-flight starts 10 minutes late. After introductions we head out to the aircraft and do the pre-flight inspection, then climb in, do the checklists, start up, and head out to the run-up pad. More checklists, with the instructor reaching across in front of me and flipping switches and setting the dials. So I back-tracked down the runway like a drunken sailor, generally to the left of the centre-line, but arriving at the the western end without any great excitement. We're moving so slow the rudder is not very effective, I didn't use differential braking, and the nosewheel is free-wheeling.

The instructor performed the take-off - this puppy lept into the air!!! We cleared the runway, climbed and turned to our heading, levelled off, and headed for the practice area (about a 3 minute flight). I took the stick and flew the rest of the fam-flight. We flew the usual - straight&level flight, coordinated turns (shallow and medium), holding a heading, holding altitute, some throttle work, flying the circuit, base and final and lining up on the centre line for the landing. He took control at about 200' and greased it. Total engine time was a bit more than 30 minutes.

One MAJOR irritation - when I had control this instructor always had his feet on the rudder pedals. His hands hovered near the stick at first, but then relaxed when I was flying straight and level rather than porpoising all over the sky. He got the clue that I had an idea about what I was doing when I started adjusting the trim (electric elevator trim - gotta love it!) so we could fly level hands-free - then there were no more hands hovering near the stick. But it felt like I had to punch the pedal through the floor to get any rudder movement (perhaps this was a factor in why my taxiing was so poor?).

What's next?
  • I'm going to book a fam-flight with FS#1. When it comes down to it, what really matters is safety and quality of instruction, not the shiny new airplanes (thought that's really nice too!). So I need to look past the shine, and measure the substance.
  • I may book a second fam-flight with FS#2, but with the *other* instructor. I also need to talk to the owner of FS#2 about a few more questions.
  • If I take my instruction on the Eclipse, I'll have to budget for eventually getting type-certified on the C150 and C172. Not being made of money, I'll be renting.... and the C150 and C172 are the commonly available types.
  • There is another school about 20 minutes north of here, I *may* further investigate them.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

No soaring this year

As you may have noticed, I have not posted anything this summer. That's because I have not been flying.

Turns out I've had limited time, and no weather when I have had time. And isn't it amazing that expenses seem to expand to consume all available income (the house really needed the new roof, the oldest car needed replacing, etc etc etc). But I still have permission.

Actually, the weather in Ottawa has not been too bad in the latter half of the summer, but weather and my availability never seemed to coincide.

The club I frequented last year has a mailing list, and so there are frequent emails (on weekdays) asking if there was an available tow pilot, someone wanted to play hookey from work, and off they went. While I was chained to a desk. Some days they went off gliding for a 7.5 hour flight, covering hundreds of km.

Soaring (gliding) wasn't working for me.

The skills for power pilot and glider pilot are similar and different. But power pilots can fly year-round, so maybe I should go the power route.

I need to do more than live vicariously through Aviatrix's blog.

There is a GA airport about 10km from where I live. There are two flying schools there. So Friday, after work, I dropped in on both of them.