31 January 2012

Rental checkout

Having not flown a Cessna 172 since last October, I thought it'd be a good idea yesterday to take a CFI with me to grade my air work, practice a few simulated emergencies, and hopefully shoot some crosswind landings. I discovered that the FBO wanted renters to do a checkout every 90 days, so this session would satisfy that requirement. My usual instructor is no longer with the company, so I scheduled a CFI that I'd only flown with once over a year and a half ago.

I always look forward to flying with a different instructor as each has had slightly different ideas about proper technique. First mistake: I finish buckling in and organizing the cockpit only to remember that I hadn't removed the chock on the nosewheel (usually the airplane is secured with tie-down ropes). I learned this summer to perform a few of the pre-takeoff checks during the long taxi by making shallow S-turns to confirm operation of the turn coordinator, DG, and so on. The CFI was not enthusiastic about that practice, which I'll take under consideration.

I hadn't practiced the maneuvers in several months. Despite chair-flying them beforehand, I was pretty rusty. During my short field takeoff, I forgot to retract the flaps, and it took longer than usual to get oriented with the landmarks in the practice area. The air was cold, so the deck angle for the power-on stall was higher than usual. I decided to experiment by using the angle of the left wing against the horizon to judge yaw (there were no clouds to use as a visual reference ahead). I had the ball centered until the stall break, but I was a little slow in releasing right rudder pressure and the nose yawed right. I forcefully corrected with left rudder to level the wings. It wasn't elegant but I had it under control. The instructor was not amused.

There were two airplanes in the pattern at Culpeper airport using the wind-favored runway, 22, as well as a Cessna practicing the NDB approach to runway 4. During one climb out, I got a good head-on look at that Cessna as he descended below us on final approach.

I have a lot to practice. My coordination was sloppier than I had expected. I see a flight in my future practicing climbing and descending dutch rolls. I used 30 degree banks in the traffic pattern as I am accustomed, but the instructor remarked that this was too steep. I want to get in the habit of flying in a passenger-friendly way, so I'm going to keep that in mind.

I need to fly airplanes more often to stay proficient. I had considered working toward my instrument rating as a good way to do that, but it will have to wait until I can fund it. With fuel surcharges, the wet/hobbs rental rate of a Cessna 172 is getting tough to justify. Flying gliders just can't be beat on a smiles per dollar basis.

14 January 2012

Wheel Landings

That's not me in there, and that's also not a wheel landing
While I didn't experience the predicted 25 knot gusts, the wind did keep things interesting at 2W5.  We shared the pattern with a Citabria and, at least for a couple of laps, a Diamond Katana. Since the grass "taxiway" was closed, we formed a conga line when back-taxiing on the runway.

After a passable three point landing, we moved on to wheel landings. A wheel landing is performed by flying the airplane down to the runway such that the main wheels just kiss the pavement while the tail is still happily flying. Forward elevator is then used to stick the mains onto the runway by reducing the angle of attack. Otherwise, the momentum from touchdown will pull the tail down, increasing the angle of attack of the wings, thus causing the airplane to fly again (H. S. Plourde calls this a jounce).

To make things easier, I was instructed to fly the approach faster than usual, diving for the runway threshold at 90+ mph. A proficient tailwheel pilot can make a wheel landing at the same approach airspeed used for a three pointer, but I'm not close to proficient, yet. It was shocking how quickly that extra energy dissipated, though: the constant speed prop on the Super Decathlon is an effective airbrake when in flat pitch.

I still found it unnatural to put forward pressure on the stick at the moment of touchdown, and I'd jockey with the elevator rather than keep it steady forward--a bad habit that I will soon break. Several of my attempts resulted in bounces (jounces) with 3-point landing recoveries. It wasn't pretty, but I understand now what needs to happen and it is just a matter of making my hands and feet do it smoothly.

While my flying was still sloppy, I felt like I made progress today. I was much more comfortable handling the crosswinds though the conditions were, admittedly, a bit tamer than last lesson. The instructor is awesome, and I plan to learn some basic aerobatics from him after the tailwheel endorsement. I can't think of a better way to accrue tailwheel time.

07 January 2012

Tailwheel Transition Lesson #2

The crosswinds today were strong enough to be interesting humbling, but not too strong. It hasn't clicked, yet; it will.
Not the plane that I flew.