26 July 2010

Lesson Four: Emergency Procedures, Lousy Flying

Ugh. Today was rough, relatively speaking.  It can only be so bad, though:  I was fortunate to to go flying in a small airplane on a beautiful sunny day and learn new stuff.  But I did so many things wrong, and my flying was generally lousy.  I never expected this training to be easy, though. I flew with a different instructor today, someone who is clearly very experienced and thorough.  I managed to get completely flustered at the outset--overwhelmed by all the changes to the usual routine--and I let that affect the entire lesson. 

I arrived early and filed my SFRA flight plan. While I asked for NOTAMs and TFRs, I didn't get a standard weather briefing. Usually, we just look at the METARs, TAFs, and satellite imagery on the computer.  I asked for an abbreviated weather briefing, since I had looked up the weather conditions before I got there.  Wrong.  We stopped and took a detailed look at the weather, which was good, because we had fairly low cumulus clouds, significant winds at 3000 feet, and a crosswind at CJR.  I'll ask for the winds at 3 and 6 thousand feet from now on, and will check the conditions at RIC and EMI for relative comparison.

Then there was the preflight.  The preflight checklist in the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) didn't mention the belly drain: there's a new one to check.  I didn't know to twist the pushrods on the ailerons and flaps, or to check the tension of the cables connected to the rudder.  I had never done a final walk to the back of the airplane after fully completing the checklist--another good thing, because you can double-check that the fuel caps are secured without climbing up to the wing.   After looking at the preflight checklist in my Private Pilot Manueuvers manual, all these extra preflight checks were listed. All good to know. I will make a new checklist to supplement the one in the Cessna 172 POH.

I hadn't used the primer--a plunger that shoots vaporized fuel directly into the engine cylinders--to start the engine before since we hadn’t needed it. Don't dawdle before cranking the engine after using the primer.  On the pre-takeoff checklist, I learned to turn off the alternator to verify that the ammeter goes negative, indicating that the battery is draining. I usually just check that it reads zero.  Another item for the list.

I “killed” us twice on simulated emergency landings, though I just about made the field on the second try (flaps at 20 degrees instead of 30 next time).  I came close to a stall on one of my emergency approaches--enough to briefly hear the throaty sound that occurs ahead of the stall warning whine.  I didn’t know where we were half the time, and couldn't find the airport--I had never flown with a Terminal Area chart before.  I totally botched up the radio calls to Potomac TRACON that I usually handle fine.   On several takeoffs I took my hand off of the throttle during the climb out.  This is a dangerous habit that I will break:  the throttle might close on its own at a low altitude.

Then there is the puzzle of elevator trim.  I realize that I want to be flying with a light touch on the yoke.  In one case I needed to maintain a 500 fpm climb at nearly full throttle.  I needed a death grip on the yoke to supply enough force on the elevator to keep the plane from pitching up violently:  I want to use trim to ease the pressure, but that is wrong.  The answer, I think, is to reduce the throttle a little.  On the descent, though, it was OK to use trim to neutralize the yoke. I need to read-up on proper use of elevator trim.

We were pretty late getting back to the airport and the plane was scheduled for another student.  So I was rushing through the after-landing checklist to get the airplane parked.  I missed the mixture idle cutoff step and started heading to the ignition switch, which prompted an unearthly reaction from the CFI.  I won’t make that mistake again, though I think it would take a lot for this CFI to have any trust that I am not going to screw up the most basic of procedures.  Lesson:  don’t rush, no matter what. The dispatcher gave the student another plane, anyway. And I apologized for getting back late.

I caught at least one 1.5 grade on my training record, which I think is the equivalent of “totally sucks,” so I (rightfully) got torn apart on a few items.  Now there were a few things that went alright:  my 45 degree steep turns were passable.  The landings were OK, too.  Instrument flight was better this time and I learned a new instrument scan pattern (the V-inverted V).

I’m ready to get back on the horse and give it hell on Wednesday.

Flight time this lesson: 1.3 hours dual, 0.2 hours simulated instrument
Total time to date:        5.4 hours dual, 0.4 hours simulated instrument  

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