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