Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm not qualified to land the plane

Funny news story today, about a pilot for Flybe who announced to his passengers that he wasn't qualified to land the plane at CDG, and so they returned to Cardiff.

Apparently the pilot just upgraded to the Q400 from the Q300, and didn't have the training required to land in the fog at CDG at that time. Rather than doing the macho-man thing, the pilot made the announcement and returned to the departure airport.

One assumes that the weather was adequate prior to departure, but levels dropped while the aircraft was in-flight resulting in the weather below the pilot's minimums at the time of arrival.

The press will be all over this, since the quote will grab headlines. And they will add their own points of emphasis and omission to make the story, torturing the story into fiction. I have low expectations from today's press.

What will get missed is the responsible act of the pilot. He stayed within his limits, and chose the safe course of action. Congratulations.

Though, perhaps it would have been better to announce "The weather at CDG has dropped below minimum requirements, we are returning to Cardiff" rather than " I am not qualified...."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Aviation medical - December 15

Being an old fart, my class 3 medical expires after 2 years. The date of my previous medical examination was January 2007, 23 months ago.

I visited the CAME today. I passed.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Some more circuits - Dec 14

With the pre-Christmas season life is busy. Ottawa also has just started a transit strike, which does not affect me since home and work are quite near each other, but does affect my wife (who works downtown and normally takes the bus each day) and my daughter (who works shifts that start at various times, needs to take the bus to work or mooch the car... which normally is not around during the day). The strike sucks up time, and the shortage of time cascades into all other facets of life during a season which is normally busy.

But today I flew a bit. The school had a Christmas pot luck, and I managed to snag a late-morning time slot so I could attend both on one trip.

A look at the radar showed a ring of snow-showers all around Ottawa, and bearing right down on the Carp airport. And the rising air temperature (yesterday was -19C, today was above freezing) meant that there was a chance of rain or freezing rain. My original plan was to practice slow flight and stalls in the practice area, but the changing weather meant it would be prudent to stay near the airport. I'm still not happy with my normal approaches, so that was fine.

My instructor wanted to come along for the ride, rather than cutting me loose directly. Primary reason was the snow-covered runways and taxi-ways - we had some more snow last night - and he wanted to ensure my ground control was appropriate.

Four circuits dual... started with a short-field take-off, the remainder of the take-offs were touch&go (normal). Though the runway still had a dusting of snow, the brakes and tires held against the application of full-power.

Circuits were routine... I talked about the last lesson, how I have been working on getting started early, staying ahead of the airplane and leaving lots of time to calmly fly the approach. My circuit agenda was to stick to 1000' AGL and avoid wandering altitudes, and to not pinch 10-20 degrees off my headings and crowd the runway when flying the circuit.

Final approach was horizontally stabilized, and the vertical stabilization was getting better. Getting into a stable attitude with stable power and airspeed, and tracking the runway numbers, was a good tool. Today I tended to come in a bit lower and flatter than ideal, but with no last-300-yard application of power.

I unloaded the instructor, and did two circuits solo. Started with a short-field take-off, where I got off the runway nice and early, got a bit higher than ground effect, and wandered off to the left side of the runway once airborne. More practice required.

On the second downwind I noted that the visibility to the north had really shut down, about 8 miles away. I called full-stop and came home.

I felt rushed in this final circuit since I didn't want to be flying in what might be white-out conditions in a non-IMC certified aircraft with a non-IFR pilot, but forced myself to be methodical on the checklist and the approach. When you're in an airplane and you rush things, bad things happen.

Time: 0.6 Dual, 0.4 solo
Landings: 4 dual, 2 solo
Take-offs: 1 Short-field, 1 soft-field, 4 touch&go normal.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Day of Firsts - Again - December 11

It is not unexpected to constantly experience "firsts" when you're in a new locale, or when you're on a steep learning curve. Today I was on both.

Flight booked from 1-3. I had a preflight briefing from the CFI as my usual instructor was at work (I was working "flex-time"). My plan was to work on the basics. She agreed. Winds were only 6 knots slightly from the right of runway 10, landings were not going to be a problem, so she launched me straight solo. That's a first - every previous solo flight required a checkride for a circuit or three to ensure my skills were within conditions before the self-unloading ballast got out and I went solo.

Temperature yesterday afternoon was -11C, and the air pressure (according to the altimeter when set to runway altitude) was 30.19. While I was physically 382 feet above sea level, I calculated the density altitude to be 3080 feet below sea level. The air was thick (dense), and both the wings and propeller were going to be high performance. I had minimal weight with only myself, and slightly more than a half tank of gas, aboard. This bird was going to climb like a homesick angel.

I had a long list of activities to practice. At first look it seems to be a too-long list, but it was all basic activity (climbs, descents, turns, etc).

Today's plan:
  • Normal take-offs were getting routine, so work on short takeoffs, and soft-field take-offs,
  • Fly to the practice area,
  • Practice the basics - turns to a heading while maintaining altitude, climbs and descents to an altitude while maintaining heading, maintaining altitude while in cruise, do some slow flight manoeuvres. If I was feeling comfortable I'd add steep turns and forward slips.
  • Return to the airport, then practice normal landings.
As the Diamond has a plastic canopy it is necessary to have a nice warm-up before taxiing, otherwise any FOD that hits a cold plastic canopy may pit or shatter, rather than just bounce off. The engine was warm from the previous flight, so the warm-up during the preflight checklists was sufficient.

Taxi was slow and careful - the apron and taxi-way were both snow-covered with occasional bits of bare pavement. The runway was mostly bare, with occasional icy bits. Another first - this was the first time I'd be working on anything except bare pavement.

First take-off was a short-field:
  • Position right at the end of the runway,
  • Elevator full-back, to maximize brake effect,
  • Stand on the brakes,
  • Full power, check guages,
  • Release brakes,
  • Release elevator to neutral, rotate at normal speed (44 knots), climb out at Vx (best angle of climb, 57 knots),
  • When the virtual 50 foot obstruction is cleared, lower nose to climb out at Vy (best rate of climb, 68 knots).
I proceeded solo to the practice area - the third first in a short while. While exciting, it also felt really weird. There was one other aircraft in the practice area, and three others transiting the area, so I claimed a patch of sky over Constance Bay and proceeded to work my plan.

  • Climb to 3500', and level off on a smooth transition (no floating feeling) and without busting through. I did a Vy (maximum rate) climb, and was climbing at 1300 feet per minute. Last summer I was seeing 600 FPM. Went well,
  • Shallow (15 degrees of bank) 360 degree turns in both directions while maintaining altitude. Went well - maintained altitude easily,
  • Medium (30 degrees of bank) 360 degree turns in both directions while maintaining altitude. Turns went well, altitude maintenance was sloppy. Exit on a heading went well. Using external references (the horizon), noted that most of my turns in the circuit were banked about 20 degrees. Since I've spent the last three months in Circuit Hell, thirty degrees of bank was more than I was used to, and a bit uncomfortable, so I decided that medium banked turns were the place to work, and didn't try steep turns (45 degrees, or even 60 degrees) on this flight,
  • Descents were slow. Most (almost all) small GA airplanes have air-cooled engines, so the front cylinders cool quicker than the rear cylinders. Thermal shock occurs when you put the cylinders through hot-cold-hot-cold cycles. With the very cold air, to minimize the thermal shock you want to re-warm the cylinders periodically when in idle conditions (like on a descent), or else just keep some minimal throttle. With the high density air and throttle for 1200 RPM, descents were gentle. It was easy to hit and maintain the desired target altitude,
  • Traffic starting coming in from the north and were announcing that they were passing over Constance Bay (exactly where I was practicing, although I was higher), so it was time to stop playing on the freeway. I set up for slow flight, with gentle turns, and transited down to Kinburn,
  • With the very cold air I decided to not practice forward slips (which is an engine-idle manoeuvre).
By this time I was bored with driving around in the sky, so it was time for some circuits. Descend below 2500 feet (gradual descent) to get under the Ottawa wedding cake, proceed to the town of Carp while continuing to descend down to 1900 feet (1500 feet AGL), pass over the airport, check the runway and the wind-sock, descending turn to circle back to the active side, cross at 1400 feet (1000 AGL), join the mid-left downwind, and practice normal landings, stop&go, and different take-offs.

On every landing it is essential to get stabilized, meaning that you're riding down on rails with only minimal control adjustments, and then only to keep yourself on the rails. I've found that my approaches are horizontally stabilized (tracking the centre-line, and land on the centre of the runway with no yaw), but not vertically stabilized. I tend to start off too high, use minimal power, get too low, bring the nose up to have a lower descent rate, get going a bit slow, then add in some power, arrive at the threshold with minimal energy, and run out of energy and drop (stall out) the last 2 feet to the runway.

It all starts with being too-high at the start of the final approach, so I wanted to get well ahead of the aircraft:
  • Fly the downwind at 110-120 knots, radio calls made, pre-landing checklist done, throttle back opposite the threshold, nose slowly up to maintain altitude and lose speed, reset the elevator trim, flaps to take-off, and then turn to base when at the correct position and speed is 60-65 knots,
  • After the turn to base is complete, flaps down to landing, trim for 60 knots,
  • I'm landing on runway 10 today, so I should be flying 90 degrees from runway heading, or a 190-degree, base leg. Often I will squeeze it to 70-80 degrees, which means I am closer to the runway threshold when turning final, and therefore compressing the final approach,
  • Turn final, make the radio call, and get stabilized both horizontally and vertically,
  • Pick my aiming point (difficult on a mostly snow-covered runway - it's all white), and see if it is static on the windscreen, or if it is tracking up/down (which means you will undershoot or overshoot). Adjust elevator to keep the aiming point stable, adjust power to maintain 60 knots), fly the final. Today the atmosphere was easy - no sink off the end of the runway, and the crosswinds were both mild and non-gusting,
  • Gentle flare to cruise attitude - I had been starting my flare a bit late and was therefore a bit rushed and aggressive,
  • Stop rotating at cruise altitude - no nose-up when rotating to the flare,
  • As the aircraft starts to sink, nose-up to maintain a very gentle sink rate (no sink if just above the runway).
I was doing stop&go (rather than touch&go) landings today, to practice the different take-offs. Post-touchdown, I needed to:

  • Pick an area of the runway which had good traction (or - at least - equal traction for both wheels),
  • Slow down carefully using brakes,
  • Radio the back-tracking call, turn,
  • Complete the pre-takeoff checklist while taxiing back to the take-off position,
  • Set up for the take-off,
  • Launch.
The next four take-offs were all soft-field:

  • On the soft part of the field taxi is done with some power (so you don't get stuck) and full-back elevator (to minimize the weight on the nose-wheel),
  • Turning at the end of the runway is completed without stopping,
  • Smooth application of full power,
  • Nose-wheel will want to come off the runway at much less than rotation speed due to the full-back elevator - when the nose starts to move relax most of the elevator so the nose wheel is only slightly off the runway,
  • At rotation speed (44 knots) lift the nose wheel up, and get the aircraft off the ground. My stall speed is 38 knots with take-off flaps, so we can easily fly at 44 since we're not at maximum weight, we are at full power so the airflow over much of the wing is in the prop-wash and much faster than my airspeed of 44 knots. And because of this aircraft's rapid acceleration we're probably up to 50 knots by the time we lift off.
  • Nose down, and stay in ground effect. This is not a short-field take-off, so there is no urgency to climb out. Accelerate in ground effect to Vy (68 knots), and climb.
Final landing, full stop, taxi to the gas pump, go do paperwork and de-brief.

Time: 1.4 hours solo
Take-offs: 1 short-field, 4 soft-field
Landings: 5 normal

Needs improvement:

  • Because I've spent so much time in the circuit in the last three months, medium and steep turns feel very unusual. Time to become re-acquainted,
  • Altitude tracking on medium turns,
  • Vertical stabilization on final approach. Today was much better, but it still needs practice and improvement to make it slick,
  • Flying downwind and base at 180 degrees and 90 degrees from runway heading. I have a tendency to pinch by 10-20 degrees,
  • On a soft-field take-off, I tend to yaw to the left when leaving the surface. Need more right rudder to counteract the propwash, and perhaps a bit of right aileron to counter-act the cross-wind,
  • On a soft-field take-off, staying within ground effect. I still tend to leap off the runway and get higher than ground-effect. It was especially tough today because of the dense air, which resulted in a very high-performance wing and propeller, and everything happened very quickly.
Needs a re-visit, just because it has been so long:
  • Need more time in very slow flight (50 knots), just to get comfortable with that regimen of flight,
  • Need work on stalls (didn't plan on working on them today),
  • Need practice on forward slips (smooth entry and exit). Didn't work on that today because I had a full workload, and didn't want to thermal-shock the engine,
  • Spiral dives. It has been a long time since I reviewed them. Must have an instructor on board to practice them,
  • Steep turns.
Went well:

  • Getting down to a good altitude at the start of the final approach. I tend to be too high, primarily due to getting behind the airplane in downwind and base. Even with a light load and dense air, today's focus on the pre-final phase of the landing generated very good results,
  • Climbs and descents were good today. But needs more practice, as there remains a tendency to blast through the target altitude on a climb, espceially when things are busy,
  • Slow level flight - 60 knots with flaps in take-off. But it is boring,
  • Gentle turns with altitude tracking and rolling out on a specific heading,
  • Radio work. Solo. With frequency changes,
  • Taxi on a slippery surface,
  • Short-field take-offs,
  • Horizontal stabilization on final approach.
  • Flare - today was much better, no climbing during flare, and the level-off altitude was good,
  • Nose-up during touch-down - I greased all five of today's landings.

  • Taxiways and runways which were not bare pavement,
  • Launched without a checkride,
  • First time solo away from the airport.
Next lesson is next Sunday. It's a short booking period - only 90 minutes - so I'll suggest we focus on slow flight and stalls.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Precautionary Landings - Nov 30

We started today with a 30 minute briefing, where we went through the Precautionary Landing methodology. Then, out to pre-flight, and off north to the practice area.

I started with a short-field take-off: Position as close to the end of the runway as possible, radio call "rolling", full nose-up elevator, full brakes, full power, check gauges to ensure full engine power has been realized, release brakes, relax elevator, rotate at usual speed (44KIAS), initial climb at Vx (57KIAS) until obstruction is cleared, then climb out at Vy (68KIAS), then flaps to cruise and climb at 75KIAS.

North towards the practice area only to see a bank of low-lying cloud due to the unfrozen Ottawa River delivering moisture into the below-zero air - but we found a corner of the practice area which was clear sky, and met the lateral cloud-distance requirement.

When practicing precautionary landings:
  • Be a nice guy - do one practice landing only per field, rather than buzzing the same farmer all day.
  • Make an informational radio call, as one normally already does periodically in the practice area.
  • Stay away from livestock, or any disruption of farming activities. Absolutely avoid any buildings which are marked with the livestock symbol (yellow and black marking on the roof).

Precautionary Landings are all about the choices, setup, and careful COWLS examination of the candidate landing area.
  • From altitude - survey the general area, determine the wind direction (or best guess from whatever tell-tales, ATIS, history, ground-track or the GPS will tell you). Select a candidate field (you want to land into the wind if at all possible, hence the determination of wind direction first).
  • Brief your passengers. Seats locked in the upright position, tray tables stowed, secure any loose items, sharp items out of pockets, etc.
  • Enter the circuit as one always does. Descend to 1000' AGL, and fly a downwind track after entering from the mid-left or the straight-in. Perform the pre-landing checklist. Abeam the threshold reduce power, start losing airspeed and start deploying flaps. Turn base at the usual point, full flaps, slow to the usual approach airspeed (60KIAS), but maintain 1000' AGL rather than descending, turn to upwind.
  • Fly an inspection pass along the length of the chosen field, from circuit height and distance along the upwind side. Perform the COW part of the COWLS check.
  • At the end of the landing area perform a recovery - full power, retract flaps in stages, maintain 1000' AGL, turn crosswind and then downwind.
  • On the downwind track a second time, perform the pre-landing checks a second time. Abeam the threshold start losing airspeed and start deploying flaps. Turn base, flaps to landing, slow to final approach speed (60KIAS), descend to 500' AGL, turn to upwind.
  • Maintain 500' AGL and 60KIAS along the upwind. Time the duration of the flight along the upwind track to get a landing zone length. Perform the LS part of the COWLS check.
  • At the end of the landing area perform a recovery - full power, climb to 1000' AGL, flaps to cruise. Turn crosswind and then downwind.
  • On the downwind track a third time, perform the pre-landing checks a third time. Issue the PAN PAN radio call.
  • Abeam the threshold, start the regular landing sequence. Start losing airspeed, start deploying the flaps, turn base, flaps to full, speed to 60KIAS, turn final.
  • Perform the landing. Perform a short-field landing, soft-field landing, or (more likely), both.
  • On a simulated precautionary landing do not descend below 500' AGL. Do a low&over along the field, and recover at the end.

The COWLS check:

  • Communications - After landing there will be a requirement to communicate position and a requirement for help, so if at all possible one should land where communications are available.
  • Obstructions - On the approach path (trees, communications lines, hydro poles), in the landing area (ditches, hay bales, livestock), and in the climb-out (in case of overshoot, or if you plan to fly the aircraft out of the field).
  • Width and Wind - Confirming the direction of the wind, and ensuring that the landing area is of sufficient width. A major issue with landing on most roads in this area is that they are not wide enough, they have wires criss-crossing them constantly, they have 3000lb hunks of metal on them that are not expecting an airplane to join them, and there are all sorts of low-level obstructions right on the side of the road (signage, mailboxes, fence posts, etc). Generally, landing on a road is a great idea from a surface perspective, and a rotten idea due to obstructions and width.
  • Length - Making sure the field is long enough. This is a precautionary landing, not a forced landing, so there is no excuse to select a field and then crash into a fence at the far end. Use a timer to measure the length... 60KIAS is (close enough to) 1 nautical mile per minute, or 6080 feet per minute, or 100 feet per second. If the field is 12 seconds long then it meets the minimum length requirement for the plane I fly.
  • Surface - Big obstructions (hay bales, cows) can be checked from 1000' AGL, but at 500' AGL one wants to carefully check the surface for ditches, depressions, piles of rocks, firmness, etc. If a crop is growing in the field then the height of the crop is of interest (a sod farm is perfect, freshly mown hay is great, 6-foot corn will ground loop you).

Returning to the airport the wind was variable and all over the place. We were expecting runway 10 (the same runway we took off from), but the windsock favoured 28. I crossed over the airport and descended and joined the circuit straight-in, got in too close and couldn't get down in time so we flew a low&over, and found the wind had switched back to runway 10. So we climbed back to circuit height, did a runway change, and landed.

Time: 1.1 Dual
Landings: 1

The instructor made a notation in my Pilot Training record (PTR) that I am now authorized to fly solo to the practice area.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Upper-air work - Nov 23

Today was upper-air work review, as a step towards cutting me loose to travel to the practice area solo.

Power-off stalls - Maintain altitude, slow nose-up while shedding speed, pull the stick right back into the gut and get the stall to happen, use rudder to keep the wings level (never aileron), stick forward to recover, pull back to level flight (do not induce a secondary stall) and add power.

Power-on stalls - Same as power-off stalls, but require more nose-up to make the stall happen, expect the "break" to be stronger, expect a need for right rudder to counter-act the slipstream against the fuselage. Stick forward to recover, pull back into level flight (do not induce a secondary stall), and add power.

Slow flight - Reduce power to idle, nose up to maintain altitude, when flying slow add some power to maintain altitude, keep lifting up the nose and adding power until we are at cruise RPM, but with a very slow airspeed (just above stall speed). Watch the CHT (Cylinder Head Temperature) to ensure the engine does not overheat (high RPM, low volume of cooling air flow). Practice turns (always shallow), level flight. To exit slow flight one has to lower the nose and add power (if not already at full power).

Forward slips - Throttle to neutral, left (or right) rudder to get the nose pointing away from the direction of flight, using as much aileron as required to maintain the same ground track. Use elevator to maintain speed (aim for 70 knots with no flaps, 60 knots with full flaps). Rudder should be at full deflection, use more/less stick to determine ground track, aircraft should be descending at a significant FPM due to plowing through the air sideways. To exit from the slip gently, and simultaneously, remove both the rudder and the ailerons.

Steeps turns - Oddly, I found this most difficult. Hours or grinding out circuits have get me very used to left-hand turns, and shallow-banked turns. Lots of aileron to get a 45 degree bank, use rudder to keep the turn coordinated, add some elevator to hold altitude, and some power to maintain airspeed. I had trouble maintaining altitude.

Coming back home I did two touch&go circuits, then a full stop.

Time: 1.5 hours dual
Landings: 3

Need to work on: All the upper-air work was OK, but rusty. Need to get practiced so it is once again second-nature.

Next steps: Briefing on forced-landings and precautionary landings, off-airport. Practice same, plus continue to review upper-air work. Do a W&B, and review spins and spiral dives. Then, assuming all is satisfactory, I'll be signed-off for away-from-the airport solo flight.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Polishing the Flare - Nov 12

This afternoon I played hooky from work - I'll be writing all night this evening, so I don't feel guilty about a few hours this afternoon.

So the CFI and I went up for a some review. I always suck when I fly with the CFI. Except today, where I was so-so.

I started by having her demonstrate a soft-field take-off. I had done them, but I always end up leaping up into the air and out of ground effect and off into the blue at a comfortable but insufficient margin above stall speed.

I took control, and I tried a short-field landing, which ended up being a decent approach but a totally sloppy three-point landing. Bad. Always two-point, always. Stay off the nose-wheel.

Next circuit was a floater, and certainly not short. And left of the centre line.

In exasperation I declared the next landing was going to be a normal landing, and I was going to grease it, which I did.

Next circuits and landings were OK, but a bit of a rush.

Final landing I declared to be a forced landing. Silly me. I corrected and said it was going to be a simulated forced landing. Some anonymous person on the radio replied with "that's better".

I haven't done a forced landing for a long while, and I hadn't used a forward slip in a long while. I cramped the runway, decided to not use a forward slip, but had lots of runway. I landed past the mid-way point so I would have failed on a flight test, but it was a decent landing.

We had a good chat after the flight, and had a few suggestions to improve the flare and landings.

Time: 0.7
Landings: 6

Need to work on:
  • Re-familiarize with forward slips
  • My flare tends to be a bit late, and therefore a bit rushed. Try doing it earlier and with a more gentle rotation.
  • Anticipate the touchdown, and slowly keep pulling the nose up, rather than start dropping and then pulling the nose up to arrest it.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Old circuits, new airspace - Nov 8

Saturday afternoon's lesson was 2:30-4:30. Throughout the morning it had been dumping rain, with mist and low ceiling. At about noon the weather started to break, and we have a nice high ceiling and perhaps 40% cloud cover by 2:30. My flight was the first one of the day for the school, and throughout the two hours there was virtually no traffic. With the bad weather this morning, there were no departures, and there certainly was not going to be the just-before-sundown swarm of arrivals.

Runway heading is 280 degrees magnetic, and the wind was from 210 degrees, so there was a stiff (10-15 knot) crosswind 70 degrees from the left. But while it was stiff, it wasn't gusty.

Back-tracking down the runway there was a flock of seagulls sitting and pooping in the middle of the runway. I approached them slowly, hand on the mixture control ready to immediately shut down the engine if something started flying my way (a bird collision with the airplane is a clunk - a collision with a moving propeller will certainly be messy, and could be expensive. Eventually they all bugged out.

Exit 28 on Bravo to the run up area, did the pre-flight check, get back on Bravo, holding short of 28 and three of the birds were back. I didn't want to do a take-off run through birds, and seagulls are stupid - I had no confidence that they'll get out of the way when I started my run. So I taxied the 300 feet down the runway to shoo them again, backtracked to the position, then we took off.

If the birds had returned while backtracking then I would have just taxied 400 feet down the runway and started my take-off run on a 3500 foot runways instead of 3900 foot.

We started with three touch&go circuits at Carp. After the second take-off I told the instructor "let's just stay dual today". The circuits were going well, but the crosswind was stiff and I wanted the extra ballast so I could practice the crosswinds without dealing with the long float times.

After the third touch&go we headed north to the practice area to practice some straight&level flight, working the GPS (Garmin 430), switching radio frequencies, calls when leaving and entering different areas, lookouts and basic airmanship.

Over Fitzroy Harbour we turned west, left the practice area and entered Arnprior's airspace.

Wow. This is new territory.

En route descent from 2000' to 1400', turn south over the gravel pit, fly over the Ottawa River, then "downtown" Arnprior (CNP3), over the field and join the mid-left downwind.

The approach to the runway is over water (first time) but that was not a factor in either the visual cues, or in the activity of the air.

As we approached the runway threshold there was significant wind shear, as the wind blows over open fields and water, then over a ridge and then descending land - shaped just like an airplane wind, requiring lots more throttle to maintain airspeed and a reasonable rate of descent. Suddenly we moved out of that flow of air, airspeed quickly went from 55 to 70 knots, and we started climbing. Chop the throttle, glide down to a landing.

Next circuit I kept my final approach much higher and caught only a bit of the turbulence.

Because of the strong winds I tried doing my approaches at 65 knots instead of 60, and reducing power to 1200 RPM instead of idle during the flare. That worked much better. Though on one landing my power was at about 1400 RPM and we floated forever. I choose to stop&go rather than touch&go.

Turn south after the last circuit, en route climb to 2000 feet, overfly Packenham, nudge through the Ottawa Practice Area airspace (more radio calls), then more radio calls for Carp's frequency, power-off descent over the town of Carp, join the mid-left downwind, drill through the sink at the end of 28 and land.

And on this landing, with the winds from the left, I landed on the left main landing gear only (as you are supposed to), then lowered the right main, then the nose wheel.

In all, this was a Very Good Day.

Time: 1.5 Dual
Landings: 9

Done well:
  • Managing those dumb birds, having a contingency plan if they kept returning
  • Radio work, including frequency changes and area changes
  • Straight & level flight - I was tracking within 20 feet even when working with the GPS
  • Crosswind landings
  • Airport approaches
  • Handling turbulent air on final approach

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Crosswinds - Nov 5

Working from home today, and it was looking like a long day at both the start and the end of the day - and I made the mistake of looking at the flight school's schedules. They had a bird available in the middle of the day, as well as an instructor to do a checkride.

I did not feel terribly sharp today, and my flying showed it - I sucked. Of course, it was the CFI that I was flying with.

While I have been introduced to Shorts and Softs, today was a day with some crosswind, on which more practice is needed. So we kept it simple.

Started with a soft-field takeoff, which started well. The nose wheel came up and we continued the take-off run, then the plane got off the ground too soon, I got above ground effect, the stall horn blared, I flew level for a while until I accelerated, and then correctly climbed out at Vy=68 knots. I need to barely keep the nosewheel off the ground during the roll, barely climb off the ground when ready to fly, stay in ground effect and accelerate to Vx, then climb. Not an auspicious start.

The first circuit was OK, except for holding altitude. I was up and down like a toilet seat at a mixed party. Suggestion was to do the downwind radio call sooner, get it over with so I can plan the approach and landing, and also give other traffic earlier warning. Good feedback - noted.

We fly left-hand circuits at Carp, and today (on final approach) the wind was from the left. I have not seen the wind from this direction in a month, and I didn't plan for the wind on my turn from base to final so the turn to final was late and resulted in a pear-shaped turn. Three times in a row! This is elementary - figure this out for the first landing - maybe the second. NOT the third! Grrrr.

Handling the crosswind went quite well. In my 'net reading someone suggested to think about crosswinds less, be less analytic, and just fly it like a video game: Look out the window, see things happen, work the controls to make the right things happen, repeat. So I just flew through the crosswind and it went OK. The crosswinds didn't have much of a gust factor which made it easier, though they did change through about 60 degrees from west towards the south during my 1.1 hours.

The first three dual landings were OK. Not slick, and a little bit of flare through cruise to slightly nose-up, but nothing unsafe, no stick pushes, and no drops or bounces. The real nasty sink was again present at the end of runway 28, so power addition during descent was required.

On the second landing I got behind the airplane. I turned downwind to base and didn't have any flaps out, had to get them out in a hurry, chopped power to get down, and generally scrambled. I wasn't worried about not getting it all done, but the secret to a good landing is to have a good approach. And one of the secrets for a good approach is to not be rushed. The landing was so-so, primarily because I was doing a lot of stuff too late.

Full stop after the third circuit. Advice from the CFI was to work on the crosswinds (it was a great day for that), and to work on flying with precision - track the altitudes, don't get pear-shaped on turns, and so-forth. CFI got out, I started up and went out solo for four circuits.

First circuit was OK for altitude precision, but I had to be really patient about getting the aircraft down on the ground. The last flights either had nasty gusty crosswinds, or were dual, and so I had forgotten that when flying solo in this aircraft you need to start shedding speed and altitude early. I wasn't feeling sharp enough to put in a side slip, and I had not recently practiced it, so I just rode it out. Slowing slightly to 55 knots instead of 60 knots helped - the further one gets from best glide speed of 73 knots, the shorter a distance you will glide. In short final I brought the speed back to 60 knots for the flare.

Traffic was busy most of the day, which was no issue. We sorted it all out. I can handle the situational awareness.

Handling the crosswind was OK - it was there (7 knots 60-80 degrees from the left) but the side slip handled it easily, and there was minimal gusting. I'm glad I had a chance to practice it.

Sink at the end of runway 28 was nasty, as it always is when the wind is from the south. I flew over it twice (crowbar descent), and through it twice (adding lots of power and still going down). Handling sink and shear is now routine.

I have noticed that I generally barrel in the general direction of the runway threshold, I don't really have a set pattern for making landings - a target altitude for the turn to final, a planned RPM for the approach, etc. I must ask an instructor for suggestions, to make the approaches less of a contruction, and more like the execution of a set play.

On the fourth circuit I just decided I wasn't feeling sharp. It was a warm day for November, and the haze was out with a vengeance. There was no horizon, and there was perhaps 5 statute miles visibility. I called a full stop, and came home.

The flying last Sunday morning was exhilarating. Today was a muddy struggle. I'm pleased that I can fly adequately and safely when not at the top of my game, but today wasn't an educational outing, it was a mental grind.

I have two lessons booked for next weekend. Rain is forecast, but if we can fly then I think we'll go to the practice area and practice the basics - straight&level, climbing turns, slow flight, etc. A periodic refresher on the basics is a good idea - and when things are not working right then often there is a fundamental reason, not a complicated reason.

Time: 0.5 dual, 0.6 solo
Landings: 3 dual, 4 solo

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Short Field Operations

This how-to posting is to make notes for future reference, and to internalize my lesson.

The fundamental principal of short-field operations is simple: Don't waste runway.

For short field take-off:
  • Do the math - get out the AOM, calculate density altitude etc, and make sure you have enough runway - you can skip this step if practicing from a long and proven runway, but if there is any doubt then this is a mandatory step,
  • Position the aircraft as close to the end of the runway as reasonably possible - runway behind you is wasted,
  • Pull the stick right back - when you apply power the nose will tend to dip, so this counteracts this tendency. It also will push down the tail, making the brakes more effective,
  • Toe brakes full on,
  • Throttle to full,
  • Check the gauges - make sure the RPM and all gauges are at expected values,
  • Release the brakes, expect the nose to jump left so be ready with right rudder (and, if the nose wheel is castered, unfortunately you might need a touch of right brake until airspeed gets to the point where the rudder is effective),
  • Release the stick to the neutral position,
  • Rotate at Vr (as usual), and climb out at Vx (57 knots in the Eclipse). Get the aircraft off the ground right at the documented airspeeds - if you rotate and then climb at higher speeds, you will have spent more time hurtling down the runway building up airspeed rather than climbing,
  • When any obstructions are cleared, drop the nose to accelerate to Vy (68 knots in the Eclipse).
For a short field landing the secret is in the approach. You can't land an airplane before it is ready , so the trick is to do all that pre-landing stuff before the threshold of the runway. That way, when the aircraft is ready to land you are just past the threshold of the runway rather than 500 feet down::
  • Within the confines of safety, use a slightly slower approach speed - e.g. 55 knots instead of 60 knots, plus add half the gust factor if the wind is gusty. The energy of any moving object is F=MV*2 (mass times velocity squared). Since the mass is constant, an aircraft flying at 55 knots (compared to 60 knots) has 91% of the speed, but only 84% of the energy. If we flew the approach at 50 knots (the AOM says a normal approach speed is 52 knots) then we'd have only 69% of the energy as compared to 60 knots. Whatever energy you carry into the landing is energy you need to shed before the airplane touches down. It takes more time, and more runway, to shed more energy,
  • Use a bit of throttle during the descent. This is a precision approach, and you want to be able to both add a touch of throttle, and take out some throttle, to adjust the descent profile. In a glider we approached with half-spoilers, so we could both add in more spoiler (if long), and take some out (if short) - really important, since we didn't have a throttle,
  • The aiming point is before the runway threshold, as is the flare. The aircraft floats for a while in cruise while you bleed off airspeed, so you do the flare and float before the runway starts, rather than floating over the limited runway you have,
  • There is a bit of throttle during the descent to manage the descent profile, but you want to have the engine at idle by the time you start to flare. Any engine power beyond this point pulls you forward, and lengthens the float,
  • After touchdown, flaps from landing to cruise. You lose some aerodynamic drag by raising the flaps, but it significantly lessens the wing's lift - and brakes are much more effective (tires have much more traction) when there is a heavier weight on them,
  • After touchdown, apply full brakes without locking them,
  • After touchdown, apply back stick pressure to maximize the weight on the main wheels, to manage the descent of the nose wheel to the runway, to minimize the weight on the nose wheel, and to minimize nose-dip (maximize propeller clearance) due to the heavy braking - but without popping a wheelie or jumping back up into the air.

Finally, I'm told that the examiner will declare that there is a 50 foot obstacle somewhere before the start of the runway which must be cleared. This is mostly a mind game - a normal approach will easily clear such an obstacle.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Landings - Nov 2

Today's lesson is scheduled for 8-10am. I love flying in the morning - the air is calm so you can get a great understanding of control inputs (and their effect) vs. atmospheric inputs aka thermals.

And the learning is faster, since you spend less bandwidth controlling the effect of the elements, and have more capacity to absorb new knowledge.

And the air has a freshness and crispness to it, due to the frostiness of the morning temperatures and because the daily smog hasn't built up.

Because I'm getting tired of Circuit Hell, I ask for something new. Let's do circuits elsewhere. Let's do precautionary landings. Let's do something besides drilling holes in the air and squashing bugs and testing the undercarriage. Not to say that I don't have a lot to improve in my landings - I do. But mommy I'm bored.

So we do the preparatory for Shorts and Softs - two more types of take-offs and landings.

Types of take-offs (and landings) of which I am aware:
  1. Normal
  2. Crosswind
  3. Forced
  4. Precautionary
  5. Short field
  6. Soft field
After today's lesson I still need to learn about precautionary landings, and off-airport forced landings. But some new pskills to practice have been introduced.

Winds having been my nemesis lately, it was great that they were at most 3-5 knots. Initially favouring runway 28, then variable, then building slightly and favouring 10. Low enough that the steady wind was just a routine part of airmanship without any extra effort to manage.

After the classroom work we got into the bird and the instructor demonstrated a soft-field takeoff, and then a landing; then a short-field take-off, and then a landing.

Then it was my turn to roll through the four of them (and a normal landing as well, just to reinforce the muscle memory.

All the landings (by myself and the instructor) were really good. No chirping tires, no yaw, no bounces, no balloons, no scary moments. A few were greasers.

This was a Really Good Day. Follow-on posts will describe the techniques for each landing type.

Time: 1.0 Dual
Landings: 8

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Crosswinds and Solo - October 18

Today's flying was from 2-4pm, or 1800Z - 2000Z

METAR CYOW 182100Z 35007KT 15SM FEW060 10/M03 A3032 RMK CU2 SLP272=
METAR CYOW 182000Z 35010KT 15SM FEW060 11/M04 A3031 RMK CU2 SLP270=
METAR CYOW 181900Z 35011G16KT 15SM FEW056 11/M03 A3031 RMK CU2 SLP270=

We were using runway 280, which is at 280 degrees magnetic. The magnetic deviation in Ottawa is 14 degrees west, so the runway is actually at 266 degrees true. The winds were from 350 degrees true (35011G16KT), or at 85 degrees from the right - pretty much a pure crosswind. Of course, the winds decreased as the day progressed (and after I was on the ground)
11G16kt means the winds were at 11 knots, gusting to 16 (that's 20 km per hour, gusting to 30 kmph).

Did four circuits with the instructor... first time in a while that I've had mean crosswinds, so I wanted to be sure I was OK to go (and, I presume, so did he). The final approaches were reasonably well aligned with a side slip, the landings were busy, but not scary. Though I didn't put it slick on the centre line each time.

But I was cleared to go solo. I wasn't sure what the combination of a light aircraft, and strong crosswinds, was going to hold in store - but it would be a learning experience.

Taxiing down the runway the windsock alternated between straight out, and rather floppy, indicting that the winds were alternating between 5 knots and 15 knots. Joy.

Takeoff and circuit was fine. On the first landing attempt I was again good on the final approach, the aircraft floated as expected, and the wind continued to gust. I eventually called bingo, and decided to go around - overshoot.

On the second circuit altitude varied all over the place... I would be flying along at 1400 ft (circuit altitude), and then suddenly find myself at 1550' with 20 knots more airspeed when I hit a gust. By the time I was on final I decided that this was a good learning experience, and I can fly in these conditions if I had to... but I didn't have to. On the final I radioed for a full stop. The landing was actually pretty good... a gust hit me and I ballooned, so a bit of throttle took me further down the runway and gently descending, I managed to stay near the centre, and by the time I was wheels down my nose was well up in the air.

I decided to pick up up the self-loading ballast (as instructor David sometimes calls himself), as his added weight would allow us to float less and land earlier, thus reducing my exposure to gusts.

As I backtracked to the start of the runway I noticed we had no oil pressure, and a medium-high oil temperature. We went to the run-up area, and found the oil pressure needle started to move at 1200 RPM, and was approaching the green at 1700 RPM. The engine had lots of oil (I had checked it), and the school responded to our radio inquiry saying that this was not unusual.

I developed a protocol with David... I'll do the take-off, he watches engine RPM (minimum 2000, with 2200 normal), and oil pressure (I wanted it up into the green with no fluctuation). If anything wasn't in range, he says "reject" and I'll keep us on the ground.

The takeoff went fine, the needles were within specifications. On the climb the oil pressure was at the bottom edge of the green, and the oil temperature was at the top edge of the green range. We apparently had sufficient oil, but it was quite hot.

Then I remembered that the air inlet baffles were still in place - restrictors that reduce the volume of air entering the cowling, and thus allowing the engine to stay warm in cold-air conditions. Depending on the outside air temperature (OAT), we can use zero, one or two baffles. We had two in place, the OAT was 56F, and we should have had none. Normally, during the course of the day, we take out baffles as the day as the OAT increases.

I landed, and we went home. It was a decent approach, and an OK landing.

Time: 1.5 (0.4 solo)
Landings: 7 (2 solo)

Done well:
  • Handling crosswind on final approach (best I've done)
  • Patience on the landing
  • Situational awareness, positional awareness of traffic
  • Radio work in a busy environment
Needs improvement:
  • Need to keep the stick to the upwind side during a crosswind landing, and expect to land on one wheel. I tend to square up the airplane during the flare, which results in drift across the runway.
  • Should have looked up cold weather operations in the Airplane Operating Manual (AOM), and removed one or both of the baffles before flight.
  • In still winds I find landings happen slowly. In crosswinds the rest of the flight is easy, but landings are busy. This remains the flight phase where I have fewest skills, and continue to need practice.
Scary bits:
  • On the solo overshoot I put in the power at the same time the nose pitched well down (due to a gust getting under a wing). Suddenly I was nose down with full power. I got the nose up in a hurry and got out of Dodge. My main gear just kissed the runway... glad I was nose-up (the Eclipse's prop has a 10 inch ground clearance - you don't want to be nose-down on a hard landing)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Solo Circuits - October 13

Partway through the day (today is Canadian Thanksgiving) I checked the flight school's booking system, and saw that there was both instructor and aircraft availability. So I phoned them up, made a booking, and went flying.

Another great day - minimal wind, very high ceilings, fall colours, and only a few thermals.

Two circuits with David, as warm-up and check ride. Very busy... when I did my full stop to let David off there were three aircraft behind me also doing a full stop.

Today's (self-set) objectives:
  • Circuits are to be crisp - fly the rectangle, don't blast through circuit altitude on the climb out, maintain altitude in the circuit regardless of what else is happening (radio, pre-landing checklist, etc).
  • Practice the flare and touchdown - know there is going to be float, be patient, do not balloon, do not bounce.
In all, I was better today than yesterday.
  • Circuit headings were crisp,
  • Altitudes were tracked (within 50' - need to get a bit better),
  • I blew through circuit altitude only a few times, and in only a minor fashion,
  • Did a runway change... I was on base for runway 28 at 1100, and the aircraft departing radioed and noted that the windsock was slightly favouring runway 10 - so I did a radio call declaring crosswind for runway 10, climbed up to circuit altitude and continued,
  • On two final approaches I let my speed bleed to 50 knots before putting in some horses - stall is 34kt so there was no danger, but the CFI-mandated airspeed is 60kt,
  • Saw the numbers tracking up/down the windshield much easier. Seeing the peripheral things is an indicator of higher available bandwidth, which in turn is an indicator that it is taking fewer cycles to do the basics.
  • Flared at a lower height (yesterday I overly-cautious and much too high),
  • Was gentle with pulling back the stick, didn't rotate through cruise to nose up (OK, I think there was one balloon),
  • Flew for a long time in ground effect - several times - waiting for speed to bleed. Was patient,
  • Was better at getting down earlier, working for as close to the threshold as possible, thus maximizing the remaining runway,
  • I was feeling the descent better - that first post-flare sinking movement when the airplane signals it wants to go down, and which is the time when you start to pull the stick back to control the rate of descent. If you're too slow in recognizing this movement then it will likely be a hard(er) landing.
With the exception of one greaser of a landing (which was right of centre, alas), the remaining landings involved a few bounces, no scary drops, some gentle nose-ups to manage the descent rate, and a few where I got the nose up too fast and then ballooned. Landings were not pretty, but none were scary, all were comfortably on the mains, with minimal or no yaw, and all were on or near the centre line.

I had one approach where I was slow to idle the engine and get the flaps out, and so I called an overshoot rather than doing a salvage. On another I was also slow to get down, but when I was plenty high I put in a forward slip and landed only a little bit long.

As I was climbing out on one of the later circuits, I noticed that I had to think through my radio calls or else I was going to verbally stumble, an indicator of getting tired. I was thinking full stop, but traffic got on my tail so I did a touch&go, then did my full stop on the next circuit.

Next objectives:
  • Maintain the crispness in the circuit
  • Keep working on gentle flares - rotate to cruise only
  • ** When the aircraft starts to sink, gently pull the nose up - no balloons!
Time: 0.4 dual, 1.3 solo
Landings: 2 dual, 11 solo, 1 overshoot

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Solo Circuits - October 12

For my next flights, I'll first be doing a few circuits with an Instructor. This will verify that I'm not having a bad day, and that the conditions are within my limits. It also allows the instructors a chance to ensure I'm not getting into some bad habits. After a series of these ongoing check rides I'll blast off directly on my own. And, of course, when bring in a new skill (shorts, softs, precautionary, instrument, cross-country, etc) it will always be preceded with dual instruction.

Pre-flight the aircraft. 4.25 quarts, 3/8 tank. Before we take a lap, we make GPUP happy by filling her with fluids.

Two laps around the block with Instructor David. Both landings good, David gets out, I go flying.

Today it was all about adjusting to the lighter load. Even with a full tank of gas (24 gallons, or 144 pounds), when it was just me in the aircraft then I floated for what seemed like forever.

Today the wind favoured runway 10 - the last time I had flown 10 instead of 28 was over a month ago... so it was a chance to get out of the habit of following the usual ground cues, and position according to the runway.

Landing #1 - Never happened. I found myself on medium final, very high.

If forced to land I could use a forward slip, but the CFI wants students to set up the landings right, not using forward slips to escape mistakes (especially newbie solo students) - I'll practice routinely adding in, and taking out, forward slips when I have more hours under my belt.

Or I could just wait it out and land by the middle of the runway - but that would leave me with less than half the runway for the takeoff.

Fawgetabawtit, I called a low&over and flew down the runway at a few hundred feet, and practiced shuffling left/right using side slips.

Why the blazes could I not get down? I knew I turned from downwind to base a bit early, found myself high and idled the engine, but I should have managed to get down.

Then I noticed my heading - by now I was flying downwind for runway 10, so my heading should have been 280. It was 260. I had caught myself sneaking in closer to home. By the time I shave 10 or 20 degrees off each of crosswind, downwind and base, I'm really encroaching on the threshold. Resolution - fly a rectangle - no cheating.

Landings 2-8:
  • Circuits on the correct headings
  • Need to watch blasting through 1000' AGL at the end of the climb
  • Did pre-landing checklist every time - while tracking altitude
  • Caught myself being lazy - flying by adjusting trim, rather than flying using the stick and then trimming to relieve pressure
  • Except for one approach, tended to be a touch high on final, resulting in a landing in the first third of the runway - barely (the other approach I was down nice and early).
  • Radio is easy, takeoffs routine, lookouts good
  • Final approach was on the centre line, and stable
  • Landings were on the centre line (except for one)
  • Yaw was well-managed at the landing (except for one)
  • In the later landings a bit of a crosswind developed from the left... which I handled with no problem.
But on every landing, I floated, and had trouble getting the aircraft down. Once I was in ground effect, the aircraft handled very differently with the weight of only one person in the seats. It was outside my experience, and so this will be my new learning for the next while.

I bounced. I floated. My timing for the flare was all mucked up. Pulling the stick back to mediate the descent was ham-handed, often resulting in a balloon up (and requiring a touch of power to regain airspeed to regain lift to gently descend again - rather than dropping).

Time: 0.4 Dual, 0.7 solo
Landings: 2 dual, 7 solo, plus one low&over

Non-landing - need to work on:
  • Precision flying... rotate at exactly 44kt, climb at exactly Vx and Vy, headings in the circuit right on the rectangle, tracking altitude +/- 20 feet.
  • Fly the airplane, trim the pressure
Landing - Need to work on:
  • When adding a touch of power in a landing, expect the nose to go left.... and stop it from doing so (this pulled me left of the centre line, and created some yaw, on one landing)
  • Gently in the flare... pull back on the stick nice and slowly, do not go past cruise attitude
  • In the landing, when the aircraft starts to descend to the runway then gently pull back to mediate the descent. I was pulling back on the stick the way I always had (with two people in the aircraft), from mechanical memory. With only one person it cause a balloon - I need to fly according to the way the aircraft is responding, not according to how I've always done it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Post-Solo Pics

Myself (I am on the right), and my instructor David.

And myself and CFI Juliette:

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Solo - October 5

Parting words of advice as the CFI climbed out.... expect to float more before landing, be patient, wave to the audience, the aircraft will land when it is ready.

So I ran the pre-start checklist, started up, listen to the radio - where did those three aircraft come from? - taxi over to an open area, and do the run-up.

And then don't move to the runway, idle for 10 minutes while three aircraft landed, full stop each, and taxied down Alpha. They were an older yellow taildragger (a Piper Cub?), a Cessna 152, and a Cirrus SR20. I had lots of time on my hands to watch. In one sense, it was nice to sit there and let the nervousness drain.

After the last arrival passed I took Alpha, crossed 04, backtracked, took the position, smiled to myself and took a breath, pushed the throttle open, rotate. Airborne very quickly.

A good quick climb, blow through 1000' AGL (amazing what 150 pounds less gross weight means!), get at altitude and stable on the downwind, radio call, pre-landing checklist, throttle back, 80 knots, flaps to take-off, turn base, 65 knots, flaps to landing, trim for 60 knots, turn final, radio call, flare, wait, wait, wait some more, land.

I'd like to say I greased it, but there was a minor bounce. I was dead smack on the centre line with no yaw, and decelerating, within the first 800 feet of the runway.

Remember - you're not finished flying until the last part finishes moving. Don't get elated just yet.

Taxi to Alpha, post-landing checklist, radio calls, cross 04 to the apron, do the run-up.

Radio the flying school, I suspected this was the last flight of the day for this aircraft, confirmed, taxi to the front of the hanger. And "congratulations". I said thanks, please inform David and Juliette they can start breathing again.

Taxi to the front of the hanger, David is there doing the wands thing, guiding me to a full stop.

Throttle idle, electrics off, mixture idle-cutoff, the last part stopped moving, key out, do the paperwork, open the canopy.

The canopy in the Eclipse opens up and back, and when retracted you can stand up.

I stood up. And pumped my fists in the air and yelled "YES".

Pictures, push G-PUP back into the hanger, off to the desk, more paperwork (including the first PIC time in my logbook), pay the bill.

On the whole - it was anti-climatic. I can do this. My instructors prepared me well.

Time: 0.4 (and a good piece of that was spent waiting on the apron).
Landings: 1

Done well:
  • Darn near everything
Needs improvement:
  • Do not blow through an assigned altitude, no matter how light the aircraft is. Anticipate, manually fly to the altitude, trim, hold it. This is basic!!!

Checkride - October 5

Lesson booked today from 4-6pm. Weather turned out great... minimal wind (NavCanada was arguing with itself on whether the winds were westerly at 6 knots, or variable at 3 knots), cool air, and a cloud base of 4000 feet above ground level).

I arrived early, pre-flighted the airplane, and found that the left white position light was burned out. Woooo hoooo, snag#2 in my piloting career. The light is optional for daytime flight.

I was then informed that I wouldn't be flying with my instructor, but with the Chief Flight Instructor - and two make two lines on the flight planning form. I had expected to take some flight with David, then with the CFI (Juliette), and then go solo.... but apparently I am to be cast into the maw of the Big Bad CFI without first drilling a few holes in the sky with my friendly instructor first.

I wasn't too nervous during the checkride... had some trouble getting trimmed up on the downwind and oscillated around a bit.

  • Taxi - had to enter 28 to let some traffic off the runway, then get back on Alpha to let a touch&go come through
  • Takeoff #1 - Slick
  • Circuit #1 - Created some skid because I used some left rudder in a climbing left turn... and under full power the aircraft still wanted some right rudder - even in the right turn. And didn't track altitude all that well.
  • Landing #1 - good. Stabilized approach, on the centre line, no yaw, no bounce, no drop
  • Takeoff #2 - Slick
  • Circuit #2 - Much better, less nervous
  • Landing #2 - Stabilized approach, just to the left of centre, no yaw, flared through cruise and got my nose up a bit... but just waited it out. No bounce, no drop
  • Takeoff #3 - Slick
  • Circuit #3 - Fine...nailed and stuck my altitudes
  • Landing #3 - Right on the centre line, very decent
The CFI asked to be dropped off at the 04 threshold, but we had two full-stops arriving behind us, so we went right back to the apron.

And then she got out....

Time: 0.5
Landings: 3

Gusty gusty gusty - October 2

Another flight booked, with my instructor, from 1630-1830. The weather looked fine a few days before, and on the morning of the lesson it was pretty good weather - except for the winds. Mid-afternoon it was expected to get windy -- but healthy winds from 290 wouldn't be a too-big issue on runway 28.

Except for the gustiness... 29012G24KT means 12 knots gusting to 24, and that can bounce you all over the sky.

Phone call at about 2pm... cancelled.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Flying Solo

This morning I drove my daughter down to Smiths Falls, where she took - and passed - her G1-exit driving test.

This evening she took the car - solo - on a short jaunt to a nearby store.

There have been times in the past year where I was grinding my foot into the floorboards, or holding my breath, or grasping the door handle.... while she bounced off the curb, or remained oblivious to the near miss she just had.

But she's a decent, albeit inexperienced, driver. At least she knows she has limited experience, and she could get into the deep end if she isn't careful.

I have no doubt that I scared the bejeebies out of my instructors. At least they had dual controls.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Best Little Whorehouse in Paris

See previous post, to explain why in the name of Beetlejuice I would ever post this.....

In December 1981 I was sent on a one-week business trip to Paris. The trip was excellent, everything we wanted to accomplish was a success (and more), plus I had a chance to tour the city.

I was travelling with some sales reps, and were in serious danger of getting stuck in the hotel bar for much of the trip. The inside of one hotel looks pretty much like the next, as do hotel bars, and so I agitated to get out on the town.

Aside from the Louvre, left bank, Notre Dame, and many other sights, we also toured the local night life. We ended up a good distance from the hotel, in a random direction, and so we caught a taxi to get us home, or closer to home. During the taxi ride someone asked if we were ready to call it a night, and after a short debate we all decided that the night was still young. So we asked the taxi driver to take the five of us to a bar close to the hotel.

Our French was poor, his English was mediocre, but communication was achieved, and he dropped us off in front of the Black Cat... and followed us in?
  • The doorman was black, wore a black tuxedo, and must have been 6'6" - and just as wide. He had no neck.
  • The walls were black.
  • The ceilings were black.
  • The floor was black.
  • Every table in the place was one of those dinky 12" diameter tables that would not hold three beer glasses.
  • Every table came pre-equipped with a stunning woman in a state of minimal dress.
  • There was a beaded curtain at the back of the room, which we noticed when a stunner and a customer got up from their postage-stamp of a table, and retired to whatever was back there.
We stood in the doorway, not wanting to enter, and not brave enough to leave (the taxi driver was standing between us and the street).

I went to the bar and addressed the grey-haired matron, inquiring if she spoke English. Fortunately, she did.
  • How much is a beer? $20.
  • A mixed drink? $20.
  • A coke? $20.
  • Are all the drinks $20? No, the champagne is $100.
I could imagine sitting down, a blond would be at the table, fingers snapped, and a $100 bottle of champagne opened faster than you can say "uh oh".

I went back to the doorway, and told the guys "We have one chance to get out of here, and that is right now." We turned and left.

The taxi driver refused to give us a ride to the hotel - he was peeved because he didn't get his payoff, we assume.

Next day was a touring day for we two techies, while the sales dudes did whatever sales dudes do when the techies are not there to keep them honest. So we walked by the Black Cat (it was about 2 blocks from some government leader's house, which was guarded by some mean-looking dudes with big automatic weapons) and I took a picture.

Some weeks later, as I was showing my pictures to my wife, just after the Eiffel Tower there was a picture of a low-rise building with a Black Cat sign on it. Nancy inquired as to why I would have taken a picture of this random storefront. "Oh, that's the whorehouse we went to."

Three Things

Via Aviatrix, the three things challenge:

The Challenge

  • Post 3 things you've done that you believe nobody else reading has done.
  • If anybody responds with "I've done that," add another thing.
  • Encourage your friends to paste this into their own journal to list the unique things they've done.

My List

  • Visited a whore house in Paris, told my wife about it, and lived to talk about it (this will be explained in the next posting on this blog, or else I am sure everyone will leap to their own conclusions) (what are the chances that a non-anonymous poster will comment "I've done that"?),
  • Roasted a turkey over a campfire in the middle of a Canadian winter,
  • Produced music videos - before MTV (1972-1974)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall colours - September 29

What can you write about circuits when you've been flying them for what seems forever?

Though the fall colours have come out in the last week, and it looks like it will be a spectacular year.

Pre-flight I found my first snag - the nosewheel valve stem had no cap. Temperature was above freezing and there was no moisture, so we took the aircraft anyway. Noted it so the staff could find a valve stem cap and install it.

Slight crosswind from the right on 28, but no gusts. I did three touch&go, then three low&over, then another 5 touch&go and a full stop.

Time: 1.8
Landings: 8

I need more practice with side-slips, so I flew the low& overs at about 100-200 feet AGL to practice moving the aircraft from one side of the runway to the other while the pointy-end stayed aligned with the runway (no yaw). First one was sloppy, the second and third one had some good moments. I need to continue practicing side slips.

Tony Hunt came out and did a touch&go in his Husky, then departed to the west and arrived from the north. Both my instructor and I were confused by "Husky - i.forget - Hotel - Yankee", thinking that we were hearing Whiskey not Husky. The phonetic alphabet works as designed, you can figure out words because no two have the same phonetic construction (Canadian call signs will have Golf, Hotel or India as the first letter - but Tony was giving his aircraft designation).

Landings were all decent, a few were good.

When we got back into the school I remarked to the CFI that they must have done an engineering change to the aircraft, because everything is now happening much slower than it used to. I'm noticing a lot of the other small changes that come with increasing experience... for example, my landings used to be very focused affairs, with tunnel vision on the numbers. Now my vision is much broader - to the point where I have peripheral vision through the flare.

Done well:
  • Softer focus vision
  • Altitude maintenance in circuit (I wandered only once, and then by 50 feet)
  • Traffic management - one other aircraft in the circuit was doing stop&go practice (soft field or short field), and backtracked on each landing. I had to manage my speed and length of downwind so we could co-exist in the circuit.
  • Radio calls - anticipate a busy airspace, keep the information complete and verbiage to a minimum.
  • Landing on the centre line (I had one of the left of the runway, otherwise all landings were on or near the centre of the runway)
  • Smooth finals
  • Minimal yaw at touchdown
  • Calm, slow, gentle responses to deviations from the desired flight path when on final
  • Lots of variations in landing approaches... high, low, gliding, easing off the power at different altitudes from 600 feet (and gliding in) to easing off the throttle while flaring
Needs work
  • Side slips
  • I tried a forward slip when I was very high on an approach - it was mucky and I got somewhat right of the runway - though I did recover with a nice&slow left shuffle, and put it right on the centre line with no yaw.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Crosswinds - September 18

I had booked three hours of flying this morning. based on progress, if things went well, today could have moved into a check ride and solo.

When waking up this morning I didn't feel sharp. Sleep has been disrupted all week, and the schedule is busy so I didn't make it to the gym.

Arrived at the flight school plenty early. Pushed out airplanes, added some oil, checked the weather, and pre-flighted the airplane. Paid special attention to the checklists since I wasn't feeling perky. - That's what checklists are for - to make sure things get done without relying on the brain to remember.


Flying was booked from 8-11am, 12-15Z.

METAR CYOW 181300Z 35010G17KT 15SM FEW020 BKN050 09/04 A3036 RMK CU1SC6 SLP283=
METAR CYOW 181200Z 35013KT 15SM FEW016 BKN050 BKN070 09/05 A3033 RMK CF1SC5AC1 SLP273=

350 True is 80 degrees to the right of runway 28 (280 Magnetic), or effectily a direct crosswind. 10 knots, gusting to 17 knots, aside from being a strong gust, was going to be interesting since the maximum crosswind component for landing this airplane is 20 knots.


During taxi the weather-vaning was serious, and I had full rudder and often a touch on the brakes, to stay on the centre line for the backtrack.

Takeoff was smooth, including a touch of left rudder (normally you need a bunch of right rudder as you apply power).

As soon as we got airborne I had a 20 degree crab into the wind to stay on runway heading.

And we were bouncing all over the place - the air was very unstable, especially for early in the day.

Flying was fine. My first downwind was a bit far from the runway since the wind had blown me south on the crosswind leg. I corrected on the subsequent circuits.

Tracking on final was difficult. I had right aileron and left rudder applied, and was still drifting somewhat left. On the first landing I did an overshoot since I was well left of the centre line, to the point of being too close to the edge of the runway.

To handle a crosswind landing one uses a side slip, with the aileron (the stick) into the wind. This generates a slow gentle turn into the wind, at the same time that the wind is blowing you back. Done correctly, the two cancel out and your ground track is straight to the runway. Because you have right aileron the nose of the airplane will be off to the right, which you correct with left rudder.

Today we had gusting crosswinds, mechanical turbulence close to the threshold of 28, and a few interesting wind shears (airspeed suddenly dropping from 60 knots to 40 knots, with a stall speed of 34 knots, can be exciting). All in all, this taxed my limited experience in handling crosswinds.

It was good to practice, since I hadn't seen much crosswind lately. But the landings were all hectic. I got better as the lesson progressed, and even landed on the centre line a few times, but it wasn't worth continuing with the nasty gusts.

And there is no way that a rookie student should fly solo in those gusts.

Things done well:
  • Patience on the landings - even when things are bouncing close to the ground, just working through them and not over-reacting,
  • Take-offs - even in the crosswinds,
  • Flare, and being patient while waiting for the ground to arrive,
  • Reaction time when gusts, or wind-shear, hit.
  • Yaw control was acceptable.
Things to improve:
  • Crosswind landing - I needed more stick to handle the crosswind, but was reluctant to apply it.
Time: 0.9
Landings: 5

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Round and round we go

Son of a gun, it is coming together!!!

The low-level practice, and having patience, is making all the difference. Several dozen (several hundred? it seems that way) landings ago I was alarmed at seeing the ground rushing up at me, and landing was a great big panic. Now it seems to proceed along quite nicely, there is lots of time, I think I know what to do, and there is lots of time to control the aircraft.

Wx was light occasional rain, ceiling variable between 1200 and 1500 feet above ground level. Several aircraft in the circuit.

Today's first takeoff was one of my best. Tracking the centre line dead-on. Rotate the nose, and let the plane fly when it is ready. I had been doing some reading, and the suggestion was to get the nose up and keep accelerating down the runway - the plane will fly when it is ready. It works! And is very smooth.

Circuits good. Some days (when distracted) I blast right through 1000 AGL, or don't track. Today went well.

Had one aircraft arriving from the north, crossing over the airport and joining the mid-left downwind. He announced as being over the airport as I was coming in on the downwind (having stayed in the circuit after takeoff), we I couldn't see him, and we were both closing in on the join between the downwind and the mid-left entry point. This is no time to keep sky-searching, so I called a 360 and did an orbit, then re-joined the downwind. Unfortunately I ended up doing the downwind rather close to the airport, but still shed the altitude by getting out the boards, getting the speed down to 60 knots (best L/D is 73 knots), and had a glide right in to the touch&go. Instructor approved the decisiveness when faced with the uncertain position of the closing aircraft.

I landed on the centre line a few times, greased a few landings, but had a few mild bounces.

On one landing the instructor added some right rudder to counter-act yaw, and there was another realization.... I didn't think the aircraft needed any rudder, when what actually happened was that I didn't need to add any rudder because it was being added for me. So we did the remaining 5-6 circuits with a running commentary from me.. I just talked about what I was seeing, what I was doing about it, so the instructor could determine what I wasn't doing, and what I wasn't doing yet. That way, he could determine what I was missing (and apply correction to keep us safe and minimize the wear&tear on the aircraft), and avoided having him try to guess what needed to be done (when maybe I just hadn't done it yet).

One uglier landing: I flared through cruise and into nose-up, gained some altitude, and applied a tiny bit of power since the aircraft needed the energy to have a gentle descent. Unfortunately, it needed a slightly bigger nudge of power. As we were coming down I just gave it more and more nose-up, the timing was decent, and so the landing was a bit harder, and no bounce.

Easiest and nicest landings were ones where I carried lots of altitude and eased the power to idle, then just glided in to a landing.

A few times I carried some altitude to the threshold and then eased off, had the altitude to handle the power cut, solidify the new attitude and flare through the landing.

I had one landing where I eased off the power while rotating through the flare - and that worked not too badly. Must practice that some more - there will be landings where you need to add power to get to the runway, and then have to ease off the throttle at a low altitude and low speed.

I did one landing where I started the flare comfortably high, but it was nice and slow, and that was a good landing. Landing is a good time to not rush things.

For the final landing I suggested a simulated forced landing at the airport. Chopped power, pointed at the threshold, traded airspeed for altitude, got to best cruise, did the cause check (oh my, throttle is at idle), had lots of altitude so went to full flaps, then kicked in a forward slip and rode that down from 1100AGL down to 200AGL. We crossed the threshold perhaps 300 feet AGL, lined up with the runway, smoothly removed the slip, and glided in to a decent landing.

Landings: 8
Time: 1.2

I'm buzzed. It is coming together.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Goal Setting

"On a cold afternoon in February, the vision of flying a powered aircraft for the first time in Canada came to be when the Silver Dart took to the air above the frozen waters of the Bras d'Or Lakes in cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

This inaugural Canadian aviation feat on February 23rd, 1909, was the result of innovative thinking, entrepreneurial spirit, unrelenting determination and a talented team of experts who had a common vision."

My goal: PPL by February 23, 2009

Monday, September 01, 2008

Wave to your Audience - September 1

I didn't have a few of the required tools to perform consistently smooth landings, so The last few lessons were with the Chief Flight Instructor (CFI), a level 1 instructor. I wanted to bust through the plateau, and a change in teaching methodology is one way to do that.

And so today (12 days after the last lesson), in mid-afternoon (usually the height of the daily thermal activity and usually with increasing winds), we went flying again.

I was concerned with the layoff, so I did some reading and some visualizing, to reactivate the little grey cells.

Pre-flight, taxi, take-off, flying, radio work, all were fine. There were a few thermals, and a bit of mechanical turbulence, but they were easy to handle. I found a balloon in the final if at a higher altitude, and sink at lower altitudes. The centre line tracked reasonably well, yaw on approach and landing was much less (but not yet zero), flare was at a decent height, never did a stick-push, and added a nudge of power if we bounced or flared upward to minimize the descent rate.

For the first time I had enough bandwidth on final approach to easily see the runway numbers track up and down the windscreen, so I could adjust power and pitch to maintain a landing target. Until now I had been doing this as an approximation - and it was hard to do anyway when bouncing and yawing down the approach.

When we started there was no traffic - we actually sat on the threshold at the take-off position for a minute doing a visual re-acquaintance with cruise attitude, yaw (over the nose) and looking at the wings' angle with the side of the runway. This had been a glorious long weekend here in Ottawa, so maybe everyone was at the cottage, park or in their backyard?

As circuits progressed we were joined by lots of traffic. Approaches from all angles, different aircraft. Wayyyyyy back that I couldn't do radio calls and fly at the same time, now there is a visual acquisition to be performed, while tracking altitude and direction, making a mental inventory of traffic, remembering call signs, and making radio calls.... while the pre-landing checklist is completed.

I greased the first landing. Several were performed with no reminders or coaching. All were near the centre line. One had the nosewheel on the centre line. Most had minimal or no yaw.

Time: 1.2
Landings: 7

Things to improve next time:
  • Power management - easing off the power earlier, or doing it in the flare itself if I need the power to get to the runway.
  • We had a few mild bounces as I ran out of energy before I ran out of altitude.
  • Keeping in the rudder, to eradicate the yaw right to touchdown. I have a habit of releasing the rudder as we're about to land.
  • On the whole, I'm just a bit behind the activity on the landings. Something happens, it takes a wee bit of a time to react. That reaction time is decreasing, but needs to decrease further.
What I did well:
  • The flare - the timing is getting pretty decent. Nothing scary today, and a few landings were slick.
  • If the nose gets up during the landing, a nudge of power and continue to land the plane. No stick-pushes.
  • Final approach - not quite on rails, but only minor control inputs were required. There was a bit of mechanical turbulence today that I reacted to - a bit late, rather than as it happened.
  • Power and attitude management on final.
As for the "Wave to your Audience" title - I was trying to land the plane. Wrong method. Correct method is to fly the plane (at a very low altitude) until it lands. After flying to cruise attitude, sometimes this means being very patient as speed and altitude bleed off and the nose comes up - and this is where my instructor coined the "wave to your audience" phrase. What I was doing was getting the plane on the ground. What I needed to do was to just be patient, keep flying, and let it land.

All in all, it was a very re-assuring, and good, day.

At the debrief, the CFI was well-pleased. Apparently I have all the tools, and what I now need is practice. I'm back to my primary instructor for the next few lessons, then a checkride with the CFI, then solo.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Flaring, touching, and going - Aug 21

I booked today's lesson from 10-12am - I wanted quiet air so I could do the direct learning, and not have to fight through active air to get to the new skills.

And I booked the lesson with the CFI - last lesson she had some insights that I didn't get from the first instructor, so I'll stay on the quicker learning path. They have a third instructor (that I've never flown with) who is quite good, so I'd go to him as a third option, if I had to. Besides, I'm taking an early&long lunch from work, and my "regular" instructor has a full time job, so I feel no guilt.

Last lesson my flying wasn't quite unsafe, but it sure was ugly. I was quite disappointed in myself, and wanted to do much better this time. Beware, I've been visualizing perfection.

Today's objectives:
  • Fundamentals - do them right
  • Circuit - fly it on rails
  • Approach and Final - smooth
  • Power Management on Final - Delicate, smooth, early, nudges
  • Flare to cruise attitude (not beyond)
  • Be patient - Landing can be a relaxed event that takes time
  • Touchdown - on the centre line, no yaw
  • Takeoffs after touch - remember to rotate at 44kt
  • Fly smoothly (last lesson I was jerking the aircraft all over the place)

Today I was determined to be exacting in my flying... I had made such a hash of it on the previous lesson I just wanted to do the basics smoothly, completely and properly. Today I managed to do the following right (again):

  • Taxi was right on the centreline, and smooth (though I got too fast on backtrack).
  • Radio calls were terse and clear. Next step is to put a bit of life into my radio calls.
  • Checklist was methodical. I forgot to test the flaps during the first power-up cockpit check, and was going to do it when the Instructor walked out to the aircraft -- so I just tested them after the start.
  • As we approached the run-up area off Bravo there was an aircraft already there, so with lots of time to spare I made a proposal on how to approach, and how to position, and why (she agreed).
  • Take-offs were nice and clean today, tracking the centre line, gently rotating at the correct speed. No brake drag, no stall horns due to rapid rotation.
  • Flying smoothly, on-heading. No jerkiness.
  • Don't be rushed in any phase of flight. There is lots of time. Including during the flare and landing
  • I ended up putting out flaps and reducing speed at different times (downwind, base, etc). CFI had no issue with that since everything was easily under control before turning final, and it demonstrated that I'm flying by objective and with a feel for the handling, rather than flying by rigid rote.
  • Speed management on final, power management on final.
The first landing was a touch&go. Went not badly, smooth enough landing, but with yaw. Pulling up the nose during the final sink to the runway went well, which made for the smooth landing.

Low & Over

The next two approaches were low&overs, where we flew down the runway at about 100' AGL. In rural areas we are not allowed to fly lower than 500' AGL, except when landing or taking off. Flying below 500' AGL over a runway is allowed (it's like a landing that never quite got to the ground).

Having a long flight down the runway at low altitude provides a nice long opportunity to get a perspective on cruise attitude. The closeness to the ground gives very good feedback on ground tracking, runway alignment and yaw.

I tracked the cruise attitude, and attempted to track the centreline of the runway without yaw. The instructor managed the throttle - it was a really weird feeling to not have my hand on the throttle. Airspeed is the combination of attitude and power, and to be changing the attitude and not also automatically adjust power was uncomfortable.

We discovered that I was aligning with the centre line by looking over the cowling of the aircraft, and as a result there was a constant left yaw because I was lining up my eyes, the end of the runway, and the wrong spot on the cowling (gee whiz, I was always landing on the left side of centreline, and then heading for the left of the runway, I wonder why?). A Really Easy way to check alignment is to look down the wing - the line of the wing and the line of the runway edge make it easy to see if you are not at 90 degrees (and thus have yaw). From this develop the perspective to see the yaw when looking forward.

And using a spot on the cowl is a sloppy cheat anyway - because the spot changes from aircraft to aircraft. I don't use the hood of my car to stay in my lane when driving down the road, there is no reason to use the cowling of the engine to fly straight down the runway.

Yes, my lovely wife who rarely reads this, I was flying at 60 knots (111 kmph) 100 feet off the ground while looking out the side window. But there is nothing to worry about, dear.


On the whole, my flares were much much better. I was starting them sooner, pulling back the stick gradually, and generally getting into a cruise attitude without blowing right through to nose up.

Not there yet, but no longer ugly.


Aside from not lining up the aircraft properly (using the cowling), I figured out that I was pushing the rudder to correct, then releasing. Sheesh. I need to push to correct, then let off the correction but hold the prevention - otherwise the yaw sets in again and I have to re-correct.


I flared through cruise attitude to nose up and ballooned on one landing.

I landed hard once and bounced, and ended up nose-up and above the runway.

In either situation you end up a short distance above the runway, nose pointing above the horizon, at a low airspeed. My natural instinct has been to put the nose down into a cruise attitude by pushing the stick forward, and then restart the landing process. Very Bad.

The correct thing to do is just keep the nose-up attitude, add a nudge of power if there is any significant altitude involved (to slow the descent), and then just let the aircraft settle while adding more nose-up to slow the descent.

What I did wrong

I know better - everything in this list is within my skillset, I just FUBAR'd it today.

  • Backtracking on the runway I was moving too fast (25kt). This particular aircraft has a slightly more coarse propeller, and will slowly accelerate even at idle (especially with a tailwind). Don't go that fast.
  • On one landing I ballooned up during the flare, and I did a bit of stickpush to bring the attitude to level. Bad. Never. Just continue the landing with the nose-up attitude. Might need a nudge of power (e.g. 50RPM) to control the descent rate.
  • My altitude tracking was poor for the first four circuits. Actually, it wasn't very sharp at all today. I nailed it on the last circuit.

Did much better

  • Reduce (but have not yet eliminated) yaw on landing
  • Flare to cruise attitude, not more
  • More relaxed process during the landing
  • Final approach near the centre line of the runway (but not yet on the centre line)
  • Landing on the centre line (but I had at least one wheel on the centre line a few times today)

On the whole, today's lesson made good progress.

Time: 1.3

Landings: 5? 6?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Checkride - Aug 10

I'm not ready for solo. But not too far off..

Last Wednesday I couldn't do anything wrong. Landings were smooth, approaches were on the rails, and so forth.

Today I had two fundamental problems.
  1. I got myself flustered. I knew I had an opportunity to solo, and I was flying with the CFI for the first time in several flights. And I spun myself up a bit. The things you have lots of time to practice (radio, taxi, take-off, flying) went well. Most everything else was so-so to poor.
  2. I've still not honed the skills for consistent, smooth approaches and landings.
After the second approach I knew I wasn't going to solo today. But I was going to achieve my second objective, which was to work with a different instructor and get a different view of what I needed to work on.

Active runway was 10, on which I've practiced once before. The air was really bumpy, with some minor sink off the end. It's a lot easier to fly in still air.

Landings were much closer to, or on, the centre line. Yaw at touchdown was minor. Good improvement.

My timing for the flare to cruise was FUBAR. The start of the problem was in power and speed management for the approach.. once again I was running out of energy before the runway, and often starting the flare too high. Things happen fast on a landing, and with the fluster I really wasn't on top of things. They weren't unsafe, but it sure wasn't slick. I was rather rushed and wanted to make things happen, and one thing you need to do when landing is be patient. I got nervous on one landing and pushed in some power... I needed to nudge in the power.... this caused an overshoot.

Afterwards we had a good debriefing. "Not quite there" was how it was described. I now know what needs to be done next, and have the skills to do it, but just have not yet put it all together. The CFI wants to book another session, but I'm out of town for the next week.

You need a humbling experience from time to time.

Time: 1.1
Landings: 6

Secrets to work on, and things I learned (benefits of a different set of eyes):
  • Keep the speed at 60kt - exactly (didn't do tto bad, but wasn't surgically precise)
  • Keep aligned with the centreline - exactly (though I'm a damn sight better than 4 lessons ago)
  • When I nudge the stick to correct for drift I tend to not bring the stick back to centre, but more than centre - which then re-establishes the problem I tried to correct by moving the stick in the first place (new observation)
  • When I flare I'm not coming to the cruise attitude, but passing right through to a slight nose up. With the speed we're carrying at this time this results in a minor balloon (this one change is going to save me all sorts of grief)
  • When I do balloon I was putting the stick forward (almost always a bad idea). But on one landing I was just patient with the minor nose-up attitude and we settled down to the ground, applying more flare as we descended... didn't even bounce.
Done well:
  • Basic flying
  • Take-offs
Needs work:
  • Approach needs work on the power management. No rapid throttle changes, including when cutting power.
  • Flare to cruise attitude, not past to nose up.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Tomorrow's Weather

I'm scheduled to fly tomorrow from 2-4pm - what's the weather?

The Weather Network, which is probably one of the most popular TV stations in Canada, says that tomorrow afternoon there will be thunderstorms, with a 70% probability of precipitation. That's good enough for deciding whether to go to the beach or to a museum, but not good enough for flight planning.

Nav Canada's website is more specific. Unfortunately, aviation weather forecasts are coded as tightly as possible, a throwback to the days of teletypes that worked on 300 baud networks, which is about 30 characters per second. As a comparison, my home's broadband Ethernet connection is about 7,000,000 bits per second. Even dial-up is usually 56,000 bits per second. There is movement afoot to produce aviation weather forecasts in plain text, but change is slow. Heck, pilots still use slide rules.

The current weather:

METAR CYOW 100000Z 14003KT 15SM SCT060 BKN100 18/16 A2983 RMK SC4AC3 DIST SH ESE SLP103=

METAR - Meteorological report (of actual observed conditions)
CYOW - At Ottawa International Airport, Ottawa, Ontario
100000Z - as of 00:00 Zulu on the 10th day of the month (which is August). EDT is 4 hours behind Zulu, so this is the weather report at 8pm EDT
14003KT - Winds are from 140 degrees true, at 3 knots (anytime a direction is written down, it's in degrees true)
15SM - Visibility is 15 statute miles
SCT060 - Scattered clouds at 6000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). With the SC4 we know that these clouds are strato-cumulus, and they cover 4/8 of the sky
BKN100 - Broken clouds at 10,000 feet AGL. With AC3 we know these are alto-cumulus clouds, and they cover another 3/8 of the sky
18/16 - Temperature is 18 degrees Celsius, dew point is 16 degrees
A2983 - Altimeter setting is 29.83
DIST SH ESE - Even though there is no rain at the observation station, there are distant rain showers observed to the east-south-east
SLP103 - Sea level air pressure is 1010.3 (29.83 inches of mercury is the same as 1010.3 millibars)

Tomorrow's forecast:

TAF CYOW 092338Z 100024 VRB03KT P6SM SCT060 BKN100
BECMG 0608 09008KT
FM1100Z 10010KT P6SM BKN070
FM1300Z 10010KT P6SM SCT020 BKN050

TAF - Terminal Area Forecast - the weather forecast for within 5 nautical miles
CYOW - of Ottawa International Airport, Ottawa, Ontario
092338Z - Issued at 23:38 Zulu (19:38 EDT) on the 9th (of August)
100024 - Valid from 00 to 24 (a 24 hour period) on the 10th (of August)
VRB03KT - Winds will be Variable at 3 knots
P6SM - Visibility will be +6 (plus 6) statute miles
SCT060 - Scattered clouds at 6000 feet AGL
BKN100 - Broken clouds at 10,000 feet AGL

TEMPO 0002 - Temporary change from the forecast, from 00 to 02 (8pm to 10pm EDT).
P6SM - Visibility will remain at +6 statute miles
-SHRA - With light rain showers
BKN050 - Broken clouds at 5,000 feet AGL
BKN090 - Broken clouds at 9,000 AGL

Then at 0200Z (10pm EDT) the temporary conditions end, and we revert back to the original TAF (first line) as the basis for the rest of the forecast.

FM (From) is a permanent change. Everything in line 1 (the TAF) remains the same unless specifically modified. From 02:00Z (10pm EDT) onwards, winds remain variable at 3kts, visibility remains at +6SM, but there is now only one layer of cloud, broken at 8,000 feet.

BECMG 0608 09008KT
There will be a gradual change (becoming) over the two hour time period from 06Z to 08Z (2am to 4am EDT) of the winds, from 090 degrees true at 8 knots. 0608 is the time period over which the change occurs, but once it does happen then the change is permanent for the rest of the forecast period (unless subsequently specifically modified). All other weather stays the same.

FM1100Z 10010KT P6SM BKN070
From 1100Z onwards there is another permanent change, the winds will now be from 100 degrees true at 10 knots, the visibility is still +6 statute miles, but the cloud base has descended another 1,000 feet to be broken at 7,000 feet.

For the period from 11:00Z to 13:00Z (7am to 9am EDT) there will be light rain showers, and one broken cloud base which is at 3,000 feet ASL

FM1300Z 10010KT P6SM SCT020 BKN050
From 13:00Z onwards there is another permanent change: The wind continues to be from 100 degrees true at 10knots, the visibility is still +6 statute miles, but the cloud bases have changed once again, with one scattered cloud base at 2,000 feet ASL, and another broken cloud base at 5,000 feet ASL

From 13:00Z for the rest of the day there is a temporary change (this far into the future in unsettled weather this likely means temporary periods) of 5 statute miles visibility, light rain showers, mist (BR derives from the french word for mist), and overcast clouds (a solid cloud base) at 2,000 feet ASL

And just to make things interesting, there is a 30% probability, between 18:00Z and 22:00Z (2pm to 6pm EDT) of 2 statute miles visibility, thunderstorms and rain (TSRA), mist (BR), and a solid cloud base at 2,000 feet (OVC020) with embedded cumulonimbus (CB) - which are commonly known as thunderheads.

My scheduled flight time is from 2-4pm - right when there is a 30% chance of thunderstorms. I may not go flying in the afternoon. And it would be a good idea to get the grass cut in the morning.