Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New York to LA via North Bay

From the FAA web site:

Flying North for the Summer

July 29 – Summer thunderstorms cause roughly 70% of all delays. The FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia uses Canadian routes to spread out traffic and rebalance the workload within the national airspace system during these thunderstorms. Canadian routes allow U.S. air traffic controllers to safely expedite the flow of air traffic through the extra airspace, which reduces the backlash of delays during severe weather.

In order for New York traffic to safely get around thunderstorms blocking routes to the south and west of the metropolitan area, controllers direct planes through Canadian routes that extend as far north as North Bay, Ontario and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Decisions to use the routes are made jointly with Canadian air traffic control. The U.S. and Canada routinely participate in each other’s air traffic control planning teleconferences.

As a rule, the agency tries to provide several hours of advance notice when it sees a need for the Canadian routes. However, there are times when thunderstorms materialize unexpectedly or in places not previously forecast, and our neighbors to the north are quick to provide help and traffic relief.

Rained Out - July 28

Lesson booked from 5-7pm, but there are a good number of thunder cells rolling through. Radar shows they are mostly in a line marching toward the airport, presumably with good weather behind them.

I pre-flighted the airplane, then went inside when it started to rain. Another student and I chatted with the CFI about flying. Reviewed the Pilot Training record, only to discover that we need to find the files from the previous CFI, because he hadn't logged my ground school in the PTR.

Finally, the solo student went flying. And got a phone call from my wife, who needed a pickup. At 6:45. When the last cell was moving through, and there was nothing but blue sky to the west. And no bookings on the airplane, or the CFI, for the rest of the night.

Went home and studied emergency procedures.

Landings: 0
Flight time: 0

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Forced Landings - July 25

Captain's Supplementary Blog Entry, Star Date 2008-07-25

When flying a powered aircraft, sometimes you need to go land when you didn't expect to. The cause could be an emergency, such as a fire, bird strike on the propeller, engine problems, or a number of other things.

Or it could be a precautionary landing, where the aircraft is working fine but it would be prudent to get on the ground Real Soon Now. Examples include fuel shortages, or weather closing in on a VFR-only pilot.

Today's practice involved:
  • Flying downwind, which is parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction,
  • At circuit height, which is 1000' above airport elevation (AAE),
  • With no conflicting traffic (since this is only a simulation, and therefore elective),
  • Chopping the power, and gliding to the runway and a safe landing.
Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

Somewhere on the downwind, usually opposite the threshold, we announce our intentions (just n case there is someone in the circuit), then chop the power to idle:
  1. Point the aircraft at the threshold - we have "no" engine, so it is not a good idea to fly further away from our friend, the runway,
  2. Get the airspeed to 73 knots, which is the best L/D speed for this aircraft. When flying at this speed we have the most range - if you fly any faster OR any slower, you won't go as far, and being able to fly (glide) further means you have more options for landing,
  3. Perform the Cause Check (this can be done while waiting for the airspeed to shed). Fuel pump on, mags both, fuel cutoff open, mixture rich, air alternate, temperature and pressure. Sometimes it can be as simple as descending from a great altitude but not moving the mixture from lean to rich, thus starving the engine for fuel - and correcting the problem means you again have an engine - nd no need for a forced landing,
  4. Communicate. In a true forced landing we're going for the runway threshold and have no options, and so it becomes everyone else's responsibility to stay out of our way - but so far we haven't told anyone that we're doing something non-standard. We've got the airplane doing the right things to make the runway, and we're going to be doing a lot of focused flying in the next while, so it's time to engage everyone else and get them out of our way, so we don't have to worry about them while we need to be worrying about us. When doing a simulated forced landing we announced our intentions on the radio on the downwind before even starting and make sure there are no conflicts - and if there are then we do the good citizen thing and just do a normal circuit and landing,
  5. Now it's time to get down, while managing the energy available so we don't end up short of the runway. Remember that the Eclipse is real slippery, and has an 11:1 glide ratio. We had 1000' of height, so we can glide 11,000'. Unfortunately, the runway is maybe 3,000' away.
  6. Time to get out full flaps (they cause lots of drag, and allow a steeper angle of descent without having to fly faster). We're flying at 73 knots, but the maximum full-flap flying speed is 78 knots. I'm trying to get down, which means I have lots of energy in the bank, which means I can safely fly at a non-perfect L/D speed... so I drop the speed to 70 knots to give a bit more protection against overspeeding the flaps,
  7. Still lots of energy, and much closer to the threshold, and so I kick in a forward slip. We're in a left-hand turn to align with the runway, so I use right rudder (which points the nose of the aircraft to the right, and away from the runway), and left aileron (which causes me to turn to the left towards the runway), and also use the elevator (stick forward/back) to keep my speed at 70kt. We're flying in a circle to line up with the runway centre line, but we're flying with the left wing noticeably down, and with the nose well right of our ground track. In effect, we're flying somewhat sideways and the whole left side of the aircraft is plowing a lot of air - and we're shedding altitude fast (when up in the practice area I could get a descent of well over 1000 feet per minute).
  8. When still comfortably higher than the glide slope and well sure of reaching the runway, I smoothly lose the forward slip by relaxing the right rudder (my leg is sore by this time) and bringing the stick to centre, and continue to manage the speed with the elevator. Now I am lined up with the runway and approaching the threshold, and it's time to get speed to 60 knots (which means I won't glide as far since it is further from the optimal 73 knots), and get stabilized for the landing. If still hot, or if there is a crosswind, I can put in a side slip.
  9. And land the plane normally.

So how'd I do on my three attempts?

First landing I nailed it. Great forward slip, smooth exit from the slip, good flare and I greased the landing a safe distance down the runway - you want to maintain a positive energy bank account at all times, for example, you could encounter sink just off the threshold. Touch&go and off to attempt #2,

On the second landing I got lazy - I took a looser circle to the threshold, my speed sometimes dropped to 60 knots (which meant I couldn't fly as far), and I didn't recognize my draining energy bank account as quickly as I should have, and didn't let out of the slip as soon as I should have. I was a bit low off the threshold and if I truly didn't have an engine then I probably could have stretched it out to the runway - but this is a simulation. I put in a touch of power, then chopped it and performed the touch&go. Off to attempt #3.

Learning experiences from attempt 2:
  • Don't perform a lazy circle - make a beeline to the runway.
  • Speed management!
  • Above all else make sure you make the runway. Lose the slip to get closer, and re-engage it when you're sure you have lots of energy int he bank.
  • No configuration changes close to the ground. Ever. I did this right. If I was energy-shy at a good altitude then I would remove the flaps, and extend my gliding range. Shedding all that drag is useful if gliding into a headwind, or if the energy bank account is low. But by the time I figured out that I was tight on energy I was close to the ground, and any configuration change close to the ground is generally a Bad Thing. Removing flaps, for example, will first result in a loss of lift and an altitude drop as well as reduce drag - but by the time I could take advantage of the reduced drag I'm probably out of altitude. And so I used the engine to get me to the runway. In a true emergency you do what is required to get to the runway, since everything else is usually a worse outcome.
On the third attempt I carefully preserved my energy and had a great approach and landing. I continued the forward slip to the threshold, when I still had lots of altitude (maybe 150'). After tracking the centre line and losing more altitude I smoothly lost the forward slip, engaged a side slip, managed my speed well, and landed it pretty much on the centre line - and still had more than enough runway in front of me to switch flaps to take-off and then touch&go.

Forced Landings: 3 (two successful, one possible if it were a true emergency)

What I did well:
  • Forward slips, especially the smooth exit
  • Side slips
  • Energy management (except attempt #2)
  • Tracking without thinking - somehow I managed to "wear" the airplane to where I wanted it, without having to think about what specific control inputs were required,
  • Speed management (except attempt #2)
  • Self-diagnosis. I damn near interrogate the instructor on the details while climbing out and during the downwind - it's my style of learning, in that I just don't want to know what works, but why it works, and how it is connected to everything else, and did I make the right decisions.
  • Not changing the aircraft's configuration when I was short of energy - even in a tight situation, safety first.
Needs improvement
  • Recognize when a shortfall in energy may occur, sooner, and then switch to a distance glide to ensure we make the runway
  • I have to think before engaging a forward slipping turn.
  • Keeping the rudder right to the floor in a forward slip.
The fun part
  • Gliding the aircraft right in, managing the energy so the safety buffer was always there.
  • Telling my wife about flying a forward slip at 100' AGL (somehow she thinks it isn't normal to be flying sideway through the air).
Overall, I learned more about forced landings from attempt #2. From attempts 1&3 I learned I could do forced landings safely. From attempt #3 I confirmed that I can figure out why things work (or don't work), and then correct successfully.

Next lesson we'll add precautionary landings and forced landings off-airport, which involves landing site selection, managing energy, managing crosswinds, etc. Unfortunately, we cannot descend below 500 feet above ground level (AGL) for the off-airport practice.

After this lesson I was exhilarated.

A beautiful night for flying - July 25

Lesson planned for 7-9pm. The day had very well-formed cum throughout the entire area, so I was expecting that we might have a bumpy flight. However, when I got to the school at 18:30 most had dissipated. Winds from 200 at about 10kt when we started, but they died down as the lesson progressed, so I notched both routine and crosswind landings.

More circuits. Various instructors have told me that this is the most boring phase of learning to fly - doing laps around the circuit, scrubbing rubber off the tires and squishing bugs, taking ~6-8 minutes of flying to get 30 seconds of final approach experience and 8 seconds of landing.

I'm trying to counter the boredom by developing precision in the rest of the circuit. Hit 1000' AAE exactly on the climb out, no banks more than 30 degrees, track altitudes exactly, crisp radio calls, fly the circuit at 90 degree angles with accommodation for the wind, work the checklists exactly from the checklists themselves (often, when you look down to read a checklist, the plane wanders from the intended path).

Approaches are getting better. They are not there yet, but there is much less of the wild pendulum stuff as I work down final. My goal is to get her coming down on rails.

Speed management in the circuit and on final remains good.

My angle of descent isn't right. I tend to start out high, fly in with a steeper angle of descent with the engine at near-idle, and then when it comes time to flare my speed erodes quickly because I need to arrest a steeper angle of descent.

Part of the problem is that it's just tough the get the very slippery Eclipse down from 1000' AAE (the altitude when turning from downwind to base) down to the right height in time for the turn to final. Absolutely essential is shedding speed in the last stage of the downwind before turning base, from about 115kt to 60-70 kt, and getting the flaps from cruise to take-off. Today I tried getting the speed down to 60 kt, and flaps to landing, while maintaining altitude and before the base turn. It helped - I was lower when turning final, so I could keep in a bit of engine, and have a lower angle of approach.

Sometimes still some yaw while touching down.

Touchdowns have all been on the mains. Nosewheel landings are a Really Bad Thing - not only is it hard on the nosewheel - which is not intended to take that weight - but you can have a prop strike.

Today I noticed that when the nosewheel touched down it was chattering, so I kept the plane on the ground but lifted the nosewheel, then touched it down again. My control touch is getting finer, and landing expertise is growing so I have the bandwidth to be aware that things like this are happening, and how to fix them.

Did 5 landings initially - the first one had a nasty bounce, two were not bad, two were somewhat OK, none were pendulums or scary. None had a slick final approach, but we were not dancing about the centre line. For too many of them I turned from base to final in a pear-shaped turn, so I had to come back to the centre-line extended. Must work on that.

When landing you pull the stick back, then further back, to keep the plane (hopefully barely) off the ground as long as possible. It is always a Bad Thing to push the stick forward, as you can easily end up nose down (see prop strike). The trick is to not pull the stick to far back too quickly or else you will balloon and be a good height off the runway at a slow&decaying speed (handle it by adding a smidgeon of power, then coming in and flaring again). No stick pushes today.

There is another subtle change - my instructor has a set of objectives for each lesson, but I have influence on that list and can expand or modify it. It's more of a learning partnership, than master/student. Two lessons ago he demonstrated two forced landings at the airfield. Forced landings require shedding a lot of altitude in a hurry, so I suggested we head north to the practice area, practice entering forward slips (I've done lots of recent side slips, but am rusty on entering a forward slip), then come back and do some forced landings. He agrees, and so off we went, practiced left and right slips, came back, and did three forced landings (see next blog entry).

One more circuit, the ninth landing was surprisingly good but with a bit of yaw, off to the apron, run-up, shut down, and put it in the hanger.

Time: 1.5 hours
Landings: 9 (including three simulated forced at the airport)

What went well:
  • Using the circuit to be productive practice time, not just looping around time
  • Take-offs - of the 9 take-offs, 7 were good, one had tracking problems (on the left side of the runway), and on one I pulled up too aggressively and kicked off the stall horn. Since starting to work on making the take-offs slick there has been big improvement, now I want to be perfectly on the centre line every time.
  • Forced landings
  • Forward slips
  • Side slips
  • Taxi, radio, checklists, lookouts, stable flight, climbing turns, etc.
What needs work:
  • Turns from base to final - need to roll out on the centre line, not past it
  • Smooth final - there is less pendulum, but it isn't there yet
  • Speed management during flare
  • I want to end up in cruise over the runway at a lower altitude - this should come with less fear of the ground
  • Landing it not just near the centre area of the runway, but on the centre line.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Rained Out - July 23

Was scheduled for two more hours of instruction today... but it's raining, the cloud ceilings are too low, and so it is a weather no-go.

Aside from last Saturday's single circuit, this is the first flight that has been scrubbed due to weather.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

One circuit - July 19

Saturday I had an 8-10am lesson. I was hoping for a bright sunny morning and minimal winds so we could do some practice area review, and then a few circuits.

When I was pre-flighting the airplane we had about 60% cloud cover. The cloud base was lowish, and had very soft, poorly formed, bottoms.

Another aircraft left just before we started the engine - as I was taxiing down Alpha I radioed him and asked what the trending on the clouds was like - he responded that the wind was at 290 and he was in the clear over Almonte (just west of the Carp airport).

I chose to backtrack down to Bravo and use the run-up area down there - it would give the oil more time to warm up, and more time to think about the cloud base. By the time the backtrack and run-up were complete there was 80% cloud cover, and while they still looked low, it was possible they were OK for circuits.

Here's the criteria:
  • For fixed-wing VFR flight below 1000' AGL, Transport Canada requires 2 miles visibility and clear of cloud.
  • The flying school requires a cloud base 1200' AGL, plus TC minimums.
So we backtracked from Bravo to the threshold and announced we were rolling. I mucked up the directional control a bit as we started to accelerate down the runway, as the wind was from slightly to the right of the nose, and minimal/no rudder was required. The take-off was smooth (I vowed that I would no longer yank aircraft into the air).

As we got higher on the climb-out we were saying hmmmmm - might not be a high enough cloud base. A glance up to the practice area confirmed that would not be doing any upper air work this morning.

I turned crosswind and then downwind, flying at 1100' (700' AGL). I chose this altitude so we would be comfortable clear of cloud, the base of which was varying 200+ feet above us.

I announced downwind, and remembered to announce our altitude since we were not at the expected 1400' (1000' AGL). Full stop, since we didn't meet minimums for the flight school.

Altitude management on the final was good, especially since I started at a lower altitude. Speed management as well. Lateral and directional control were not too bad.

Rotate and flare were nice, the landing was OK (a tiny bit of yaw at touchdown). I remembered the post-landing checklist. And announced to the Unicom that were home, along with a report of actual cloud base.

Time: 0.4 hours
Landings: 1 (sigh)

What went well:
  • Decision making. While it was iffy that we had a high-enough cloud base, there was a good chance for it. We gathered the one available data point (the departing aircraft) which indicated things would be OK. We planned to stay in the circuit, so we were not going to get in trouble if it was lower than reported. We stayed legal, as far as TC was concerned.
  • We also pulled the plug on the morning's flying, once we knew what the actual cloud base was. Facts trump plans.
  • Checklists - I formally did the pre- and post-landing. Even at the lower circuit altitude.
  • Adjusting for the non-standard circuit altitude, in setting up for final.
  • The landing.
  • My wife was happy, since I got home earlier than planned and could work on the gardens.
What needs to be better.
  • Lateral control for the final is getting better, but continues to need improvement.

Surprise! More circuits - July 16

Today I was back to the male instructor (second time with him). We had a really nasty thunderstorm go through at 3-4pm, and we were flying at 7pm. The air was very stable, minimal wind, the sun was out, and it was just a really pretty time to fly.

Today's objectives:
  • Nail the take-offs. Now that I have realized what they are like, I want them very smooth.
  • Directional control on take-offs - tap-dance on the rudders as required. No more big swoops.
  • Vertical rate of descent on final needs to be smooth, and at the correct angle. Make minor rate-of-descent changes early.
  • Improve the lateral direction control on final
  • Eyes outside, stay away from the tunnel vision
  • Rotation and landing - don't be afraid of the ground, don't be afraid of a tail strike (avoid hesitation on getting the nose up)
  • Today, for the first time, we were using runway 10, so I could practice positioning for the landings based on relationship to the runway, instead of ground references (eg. using the cemetery of the end of 28 as a turning point)
Take-offs: Still gentle (good), smooth (good), and medium speed (tentative) on advancing the throttle. Decent directional control, meaning no large lurches left or right. But it's still a thinking process, not yet natural.

But the lift-offs were smooth - every one of them. Just got the nose wheel up at the rotate speed, maintained a moderate nose-up attitude, and the aircraft took off when it was ready. Big improvement. Vow: No more ripping the bird off the ground, just let her fly when she is ready.

Circuits. Very nice. Most important was shedding the speed, while maintaining altitude, on the final part of downwind. Getting the landing set up early made for an easier base and final.

Final approach. Good altitude control. Lateral directional control improving, but not yet good enough. Minimal crosswind today, and no sink or mechanical turbulence at this end of the runway, made it easier.

Rotation: An astounding improvement. The landings weren't greasers, but they were very much better. Pointed mostly down the runway, but need to get 100% of the yaw out of the touchdown, so I don't torque the undercarriage or scrub the tires.

The instructor demonstrated Forced Landings - abeam the threshold chop the power, then get it to the threshold and down. There's a lot of slipping involved.

After the flight we reviewed my Pilot Training Record. Solo is approaching, though I'm certainly not ready yet. In the nearer future we need to review the work from 2006 and 2007 (Stalls, Spins, Spirals). I want more work at altitude on forward and side slips. We haven't started emergency procedures. I've only seen the demonstration of two forced landings, so that's a new topic. And, of course, I need to be better on stabilized approaches, especially in a crosswind.

I had read that to accelerate the learning curve, one must fly often. It is definitely true. I can see the progress. And my self-awareness is improving.

What went well:
  • Rotation and climb on take-off. Wow. I just realized that this phase of flight wasn't smooth, decided to do it better, and it was easy.
  • Rotation on landing. Eyes are right down the runway to the horizon.
  • Gentle touchdowns on landing, good attitude.
  • Speed during final - used to be 60-70 (fear of low&slow), then I got it stabilized at 60, now I am comfortable at 55-60 and fly these speeds naturally.
  • Side slips
  • I remembered to do the post-landing checklist post-landing, rather than pre-shutdown.
What needs improving:
  • Directional and lateral control on final.
  • Making sure there is no yaw at touchdown.
Hours: 1.4
Landings: 8

More Circuits - July 13

Back flying with the CFI today. More circuits. I know why they put cross-country into the PPL curriculum - it gives you something different to do when you get sick to death of circuits. And I've only just started.

Today we have wind at 220 degrees, and we're using runway 28. The wind isn't a lot, but it's there and it passes over a forest and lake before it gets to the final approach path, so there is a bunch of mechanical turbulence and more.

The usual remained good.... checklists, taxi, radio calls, climb, flying, headings, maintaining altitude.

I didn't watch my speed a few times, and got going a bit fast. And when climbing out after takeoffs I climbed through 1000' AGL a few times - maybe to 1050' or 1100' AGL. Need to hit the altitudes precisely.

Because I got going fast, and because the Eclipse is slippery, the first few landings I had problems with shedding enough altitude soon enough. I just got on that sooner, and had no further problems.

The final to 28 has some interesting sink (or wind shear, or mechanical turbulence) when the wind is from this direction. I recall one short final where we had sink (add a touch of power and change attitude), then we ballooned up (kill power), and then we hit sink again (add power, then add more power, then "gee, Jim, those orange lights are getting even larger, more power please)". I punched in a good shot of power, made the runway, killed power, and the let it slowly sink into the rotate and flare.

During landings, there is a bunch of flying in the circuit, then a final, and then a very busy 5-8 seconds of actually landing the airplane. During those seconds the student is busy doing the landing, and doesn't have much time to look out and get perspectives and so forth. It takes a while to get proficient at landings because you're only learning 5-8 seconds at a time.

I asked the instructor to make one landing - she didn't touch the wheels, but we flew down the runway at about 40' before climbing out. I took that opportunity to get a nice long look outside, look in different directions and establish a frame of reference.

Next landings I concentrated on looking in the right places. The approach wasn't on rails, but was were getting better. I made many more (fine) adjustments to attitude and speed, trying to maintain a constant rate of descent. Because I was looking at the end of the runway and the horizon I suddenly got much better at rotating into the cruise position, and then using more elevator to rotate and hold us off the runway as the forward velocity decayed.

In all, it's coming!!

Hours: 1.3
Landings: 6

What's improved:

  • Speed management on base and final (basically, getting rid of speed)
  • Vertical rate of descent on final
  • Flaring - changing attitude from descent to cruise to nose up
  • Visuals on the descent - getting away from the tunnel vision, and getting the eyes wayyyy out in front of the aircraft during the last seconds of a landing
Need to work on:

  • Directional control on take-offs - correctly using rudder at the start of the takeoff roll. Sometimes it's OK, sometimes it isn't, and this runway is long enough that I am gently applying power and working the throttle and rudder in concert. Need to get it quicker (in preparation for short field takeoffs)
  • Lateral stability during landings (vertical tracking is coming along)
  • Take-offs!!! They're not smooth. I reach rotate speed (44 knots), and then pop the nose up, the aircraft leaps into the air, then the stall horn blows due to the rapid change in relative wind, then I drop the nose from the silly nose-up attitude, then I get established in the climb, and then I have a smooth climb-out.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Different Instructor - Circuits - July 9

My usual instructor wasn't available this evening, but an aircraft and a different instructor were available so I booked with him.

Tonight was lots of circuits. There was little mechanical turbulence and a tiny crosswind.

It is starting to come together. Taxi, radio work, and circuit flying was fine. Checklists are getting familiar.

Speed control and altitude control were right on the money! First time it has been this good.

Did a few sideslips to track the centreline and lose some altitude - they are coming along nicely, though I need to think before putting in a slip. I also need small, tender adjustments in the stick, not wholesale swings.

I rejected my first landing attempt. I was just about the threshold and was too low, so I punched in some power without right rudder, and jumped to the left as well as gained altitude. So I found myself at the edge of the runway, 100 feet past the threshold, 50+ feet in the air, too fast, and pointing 20 degrees off the runway to the left. I still have 3000' in front of me so I had lots of time to get it under control and bring it in, but there likely would not have been room to take-off again, which means a backtrack, so I just rejected it and practiced that instead. I think my instructors appreciate that I'm not going to wrestle the aircraft onto the ground dammit - there is no shame in a rejected landing, especially at my point in the learning curve.

I had realized (from my reading between lessons) that I wasn't watching the numbers track up/down the windscreen - I was judging glide slope from where I was, and not tracking the trend and therefore setting myself up for a big correction later. I added it in this lesson. I also tried to avoid using tunnel vision, stare the aircraft into the ground, method of landing.

Coming along. Still not anywhere near stable in the final, the landings are a bit rough, but no longer scary.

1.4 hours, 7 landings.

[I'm writing this 10 days later from recollection.] Need to work on:

- Smoother, stabilized approach.
- Smaller control corrections on final.
- Flare closer to the ground.
- Keep working the stick back during the flare, don't let the drop get ahead of me.

Big improvement on:

- Checklists are getting less rusty.
- Sideslips.
- Speed control through the circuit - not starting at the airspeed indicator any more.
- Altitude tracking throughout the circuit.
- Shedding more speed sooner, resulting in not being ridiculously high on final.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Circuits - July 7

My flying school's CFI is a busy person, and matching the gaps in her schedule and mine is difficult. At the conclusion of the July 2nd lesson we looked at the upcoming dates, and found an hour on July 7 when she was available, 8-9pm. The following lesson was toward someones Night Rating, and it wouldn't be dark enough at 9pm anyway, so we booked an aircraft for 30 minutes ahead of time, I would pre-flight and be ready to go, and CFI would do a quick turnaround.

The logistics all worked well, and we did an hour of circuits. We were alone most of the time so the use of time was very efficient.

Taxi was fine. Takeoffs were so-so, the biggest problem being that I was dodgy on the application of right rudder to counter-act the application of throttle. Flying the circuit was fine. Radio calls were fine.

I had trouble getting the aircraft down - the Diamond is slippery, so you need to chop power and get the flaps on plenty early.

Lining up the aircraft on the final was more like a waltz, with lots of bobbing and weaving, rather than riding down on rails. I usually got the aircraft settled in as we approached the runway, but it's a pretty crappy approach. She figured out that one of my problems was that I was using lots of stick to correct for mechanical turbulance, so she blocked the range of motion with her hands to force me to limit me to nudge the stick rather than swing it.

I usually had some yaw as I moved from descent to cruise to flare, and CFI often kicked in a bit of rudder to straighten it out. Among other things, I wasn't anticipating the releif of the yaw when I chopped power.

And I chopped power at the strangest times - too early during final, in the cruise, and once while in the flare. This is not good.

After this lesson I did lots of book and web reading, doing a diff between what I was supposed to do, and what I was doing. My eyes were generally looking in the wrong place for most of the descent. I was tunnel-vision on the numbers, but wasn't watching whether they were moving up/down the windscreen so I had no idea on whether I was high, low, or which way I was moving.

When I rotated from descent to cruise attitude I was usually too high (still afraid of the ground), and I wasn't looking at the far end of the runway, so judging cruise attitude was a random guess.

And as the aircraft started to settle I would move the stick back, but I was usually too timid and the drop would get ahead of me - timely application of back-elevator by CFI would take the whack out of the landing but it still wasn't pretty.

I always landed on the mains, but I could hear the nosewheel chattering back ond forth, so I'm sure I landed with yaw.

So I don't yet have a stabilized approach, I'm looking in the wrong place, rounding out too high, am afraid of the ground, am tentative with the stick because I'm imagining pulling back and ballooning up 50 feet into a stall - or else expecting a tail strike.

I'm told this is pretty much normal at this stage. The good news is that I've sliced and diced what's happening, talked it over with, and listened to, the instructor, and have a good idea on the bits that I need to work on.

The big upside is that my basic flying in the circuit is fine - I'm hitting and maintaining altitudes, can fly a straight line, under-speed (stall risk) is not an issue.

We are both eyes-outside during the circuit and we are chatting - about flying, about what we see, about the last attempt, and about the next attempt, and I can carry a conversation as well as fly, so all of those basic flying skills are getting internalized - it isn't requiring full brain.

And after the last landing I once again forgot the after-landing checklist.

I need to make these landings less exciting.

Another hour in the book, with 5 landings.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Flying lots before the mailman cometh - July 2

I am going to get in lots of flying this month, before the VISA bill comes and my wife finds out exactly what the cash burn rate is. She has a general idea of the costs, but it's when the bills all total up that one goes gulp.

Anyhow, July second was another day and another flight. We had a real stiff crosswind, which I am not ready to handle, but when the weather goddess gives you wind you use it for other lessons.

It was a day to learn to "wear" the airplane. We did slips, turns and some basic manoevers, and then it was time for illusions caused by wind, aka overcoming drift. We cruised at 1000 AGL, got the speed down (so the wind had more effect on us), and flew squares and circles.

Juliette is a good instructor - with her coaching, sometime during this hour+ of meandering along above the trees and roads and silos something internalized, and I stopped flying the plane according to inputs and directions and thinking and cause/effect, and got it working so that I stopped thinking about what I needed to do to get a particular result, and just did it and it happened.

It's like the difference between a comic (imagine Robin Williams) doing a dialog on a drunk trying to will his feet to walk - OK, first we transfer our weight to the left leg, whoa, don't overbalance, now pick the right foot off ground aaack lean forward a bit, OK, good we're going forward, wow, get that right foot out there and under me, get it on the ground, good, yes, stiffen the muscles, ready for the weight, OK, weight is coming over, whoops, I'm stuck halfway... push with the left toes, good, .... you get the idea. That's what it was like when I was trying to do ground tracks at the start. Too much thinking.

At the end, it was like wearing the airplane. The wind flattened me out into an oval sometimes, but towards the end there was little of the conscious processing.

Back to CYRP, and with all the crosswind I had the instructor demonstrate using the slips on the landing. What the heck, if I'm paying the gas, we'll use every minute of flight time for some useful purpose.

After landing I didn't do anything on the Post-Landing checklist - totally forgot. There are only 5 things on it, time to memorize it - and the others.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Get the rust off - June 30 2008

And so I am going flying again, after nearly 10 months (August 8 - June 30).

The checklists used to flow. I still know what each item is, but it's like playing the piano one note at a time... plunk plunk plunk, with no melody. Don't think, be methodical, trust the checklist.

I get in and out of the plane easier - the exercise helps. A lot. Thanks Craig.

The radio calls are not that hard, but I had to think and compose before each.

The Garmin 430 was a mystery. Time to get out the manual and PC emulator.

Taxi wasn't bad. I had no idea which direction to hold the stick to minimize the effect of the crosswind on the Eclipse - one of the many little details forgotten. At least I remembered that I was supposed to do something, and not just leave the stick centered.

Takeoff was OK, but tentative. I expected to have directional control issues, and we had lots of runway, so I advanced the throttle slowly and made sure it didn't get away on me. Right rudder, maintain control, push to full throttle, keep the pointy end more or less at the end of the runway and get airborne. I still yanked it into the air rather than rotating and letting it climb when ready.

Reviewed side- and forward-slips from the one lesson I saw them last year. I remembered little from last year, so some day when we're sick of circuits I'll review them again.

Lots of slow flight, climbing turns, level flight, etc. All the basics. Altitude holds were not bad, but rough.

Then we did four landings. One was rejected (too high and not worth saving), one I was high and so the instructor demonstrated a forward slip, one touch&go was rough, and one landing.

Overall, I was pleased. Flying was not slick, but I did much better than I thought I would after a 10 month layoff.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Back in the saddle again

Just because I don't blog for 9 months doesn't mean I'm not doing airplane-like things, it just means I haven't been flying. In fact, in all of 2007 I had one flight, in August. But I have been reading books, visiting aviation museums on cross-country drives (and across the pond), and getting the rest of life in order.

So with my volunteer committments to youth soccer significantly reduced, and having settled down into a new job at work, it was time.

Since June 30th I've had a number of flights. It is true, one does get tired of circuits. More blog entries, on a number of topics, to come in very short order.

But first I need to go make another booking.