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.


  1. I agree with your CFI. Check the DG, compass etc when you make normal turns - unless you are parked in dead straight line to the run up area, you are going to turn. No reason to weave around like a drunken sailor - real pilot put the nose wheel on the yellow line and keep it there (go to any commercial airport and watch how the airline pilots do it).

    I also agree with him about keeping bank in the pattern to 20 degrees. You're operating much closer to stall speed in the pattern, especially flaps up. When you bank at 30 degrees, you are increasing your stall speed by 20%, assuming you remain at 1G. Pull any extra G's, and fly uncoordinated, and you risk a stall/spin. Probably no in a C172, but let's not try it, eh?

    I also find going between gliders and powered a/c difficult, the aileron-rudder coordination is quite different In most gliders you need much more rudder earlier in the turn. And that's one reason for all the grins........

  2. D.B: Thanks. All good points.

    I agree there is no need for the S-turns. It didn't occur to me to just to glance at the instruments during the 4-5 turns that it takes to get to the runup area at my field.

    The 30-degree banked pattern turns are a bad habit that I picked up during primary training. I'm going to remedy that.