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Posts Tagged ‘Learning to Fly’

Take Offs Are Optional; Landings, Mandatory

Right, then…

To date, I’ve had approximately 17 hours of flight training.  As I’m a bad student, I haven’t been tallying my log book entries, so I’m not exactly sure of that.  But I think it’s about right.

During my lesson last Sunday, I had the sneaking suspicion that my instructor did not assist with at least one touchdown.  I say that as it was a bit more harsh that the other 6 or so.  But I didn’t give it much thought.  Yesterdays lesson, however, was different.  5 or 6 of the 8 times I was the one flying on touchdown.  A somewhat frightening thought as I really have no idea what I’m doing, yet somehow I’m doing it.

OK, that’s not right – I have a novice’s idea of what I’m doing, I guess.  I just lack the cohesive understanding and confidence to fully comprehend what I’m doing.  Regardless, I was in control when the plane connected with the runway, unsmooth as it was.

And I have apprehensive joy over this.  Yes, it’s a milestone – sort of a major one, when you consider the importance of landing.  Moreso when you consider the additional importance of a) being able to walk away from it, and b) not breaking the plane.  But still, my less-rational mind recoils in horror, muttering “Ye, gods.”

There’s still a lot to work on, though.  My calibration as to too high/too low on final is still in need of adjustment.  Sometimes I recognize the situation and correct it, sometimes I don’t recognize it at all, sometimes I recognize it but wait too long to correct it.  Sometimes I come in too flat and wind up punching the throttle in order to clear the fence.

I still have this fear of pointing the plane at the ground.  When I’m at 500 feet, not a problem.  But, if you do that long enough, you’re eventually at 200 feet, then 100, then 50…that’s when the urge to pull back on the yoke kicks in, and my right brain is yelling “We’re flying into the ground, and you’re about to trip on the goddamn fence for fuck’s sake!”  The problem with this, is that by pulling back on the yoke, I’m slowing the plane down, getting close to stall speed.  If I get too close, the plane will stall – of course – and then drop until there’s enough air going over the wings to stop the stall.  At 3000 feet, not a big deal; at 50 feet, much more problematic.

So, there’s still a lot to sort out.

Regardless, my instructor informed me that his ultimate goal is to be able to nap [figuratively speaking] while I take off and land the plane.  I think we’re getting a lot closer to that.  About 4 or so hours ago, he said that I’d be ready to solo in about 7 or 8 hours.  So in the foreseeable future, I might be soloing.  A thrilling, yet terrifying thought.

Flying, Health, Puppy

Right, then…

Thought it was time to write a little bit about the flying lessons.

Today, like most weekends, I had a flying lesson.  Early in the process, my instructor focused on the basics:  Turning, altitude changes, taking off, etc…  Having gotten somewhat OK with those, we’ve spent the past 6 or so lessons focusing on landings.  Specifically, we’ve been doing touch and go’s while staying in the pattern.  My instructor stated that we’ll be spending lots of hours practicing these as a) they’re hard to master, and b) they’re a critical part of flying (take offs equal landings, and all…).

There’s a thing that is a little counterintuitive about this process.  Normally, we think that we control altitude changes by either pushing or pulling on the yoke, and we control the speed by working the throttle.  In fact, during most of normal flight, this remains true.  However, while landing, we’re in slow flight, which means that these actions are reversed:  The yoke controls the speed and the throttle controls the altitude.

Counterintuitive, but it does make sense.  If I want the plane to move faster, I point it towards the ground (push the yoke forward) and let gravity do the work.  If I want it to slow down, I point it towards the sky (pull the yoke back) and…well…let gravity do the work.

As for altitude, increasing prop speed (via engine speed) increases air flow over the wings, which creates lift, which then lifts the plane.  Slowing it down does the opposite.

It took me a while to process this, but I’m getting better and remembering which control to actuate when I want speed and/or altitude.  But it’s not that simple.

When landing, you are effectively flying the plane to the ground, leveling off just above the runway, and then pulling the nose up (flaring) to slow down the plane, which causes it to lower on to the main gear, and then touch down the nose wheel.  I’m struggling with the “flying the plane to the ground” portion.

Now, logically, I know that in order to land, I need to get…closer…to…the…ground.  But when I find myself on final approach, with speed maybe a bit too low, I point the nose down to increase speed.  I then incorrectly think that I’m too low, so I give it throttle to gain altitude…which gets me too high.  That, apparently is where I’m hosing thing’s up.  Part of this is my perception of how low I am, vs. how low I need to be, and part is my belief that I’m going too slow (65 Kts is fine, but always seems too slow for some reason).  Regardless, I find myself effectively pointing the plane at the ground while applying power which feels a lot like “Mother of God, I’m going to fly straight into the goddamn ground and they’ll be digging bits of me and airplane out of the goddamn marsh!”.   This feeling with followed by the thought “You’ve done some stupid shit in your life, but this one beats all.”

The good news is that the instructor feels that I am, in fact, improving and that I’m not, in fact, different than other students.  He thinks I have another 7 or so hours of flight before I can solo.  Absolutely terrifying.

One new thing today: I did some talking on the radio with ground control and the tower.  Listening to KPAO tower – or any one, for that matter – on Live ATC is intimidating, but I was told is that there’s only a limited number of things to say with a limited number of responses, generally.  So today I worked with ground to taxi to the run up area, then spoke to the tower to get clearance for takeoff.  While flying, my instructor worked the radio, as he feels (correctly) that it’s more important for me to learn how to fly the damn plane.

So I got that going for me, which is nice…

On the health front, I’ve been sick.  Started out as throat and nose, then descended to URI. So bicycling is out for a few days, which is a fucker as I’m trying to more consistently commute on the bike.  I even have a route mapped out from home to work.  Now, I wait.

Final thing:  Puppy.  It’s amazing how an 8 pound puppy can completely immobilize you.  All she has to do is lay on some part of me and I’ll be stuck for hours as I don’t want to disturb her.  It doesn’t help that she’s soft, either.

OK, enough of this…

Can’t Keep My Mind from the Circling Skies..

Reference:

Right, then…

Apparently, this song is a metaphor for David Gilmour’s feelings about being the new leader of Pink Floyd after Roger Waters left/got booted.  I can live with that, I guess.  But let’s talk about me, now…

Growing up, my father used to talk about flying.  When he was young, my uncle – his older brother – had a Piper Cub…this was in the 1940’s, after the WWII, I assume.  Dad would talk about how it was true seat-of-your-pants flying and that it was better than sex.  My brother disagreed with the latter statement…but that was when he was in his 20’s; I’d reckon he’d have had a different take in his 50’s.  But, I digress…

About 25 years ago, I signed up for an introductory lesson from Tradewinds Aviation in San Jose.  This was back when they were located at SJC, and SJC – like OAK –  was a “not SFO” airport.  I think back then, the intro flight was something ridiculous like $25.  When the day came, I got a call from the instructor – he had to reschedule due to weather.  I think back then, I was working 30 hours a week and taking 8 units, so rescheduling never really happened.

Then, my brother died.

My last post talked about this and how – most importantly – it was rather unexpected.  Some years ago, I saw Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman give a lecture.  Adam responded to a question about what words of wisdom he had and – amongst others – it was “You have more time than you think.”  Which is true, I guess, until you don’t.  So that sudden change got me back to enjoying alcohol again.  It also got me back to the airport.

25 years of inflation and – more importantly – rent, I assume, jacked the intro flight up to $159.  Fortunately, I make more than I did back then, so I was able to swing it.

The flight was cool, surreal and nauseating.  Cool, because – wow, I’m actually doing this.  Surreal, because when you do this, you’re in the left seat and sort of flying the plane (with lots of help of the instructor in there right seat).  So, you’re going down the runway at 60 kts, and then you’re flying, just like that.  Our path took us over Stanford to a stretch of coast between Ano Nuevo and Half Moon Bay, where we practiced ascents, descents and turns.  Also, I was instructed to bring a camera as there was going to be some good scenery to be seen.  Which gets us to nauseating – much to my dismay, I started getting motion sick.  I think it was a combination of general disorientation due to looking through the viewfinder on the camera as well as not expecting some maneuvers that the instructor did.  But, I kept my cookies about me, and once things leveled off, and I put down the camera (and took off my sweatshirt) I started to feel better.  We were  on approach to Palo Alto Airport and just like that, we were on the ground again.  Surreal.

I must have liked it, as I signed up to join Sundance Flying Club, two days later.  That was three weeks ago.  I now have a grand total of 3 hours of flying time – 1 in a Cessna 172, and 2 in a Piper Cherokee Warrior II.  The reason for the shift is due to availability – All of the clubs C172’s are currently scheduled or in for maintenance or inspection; an anomaly, my instructor assures me.  But, not wanting to wait, I scheduled the Piper to continue my lessons.

Overall, I like the Piper and Cessna equally.  The Cessna is high-wing, so you get a good view of the ground when you’re aloft.  The  Piper is low-wing, so you get a good view of the sky when you’re flying.  The both seem to handle about the same.  With the Piper, you have to remember to use the electric fuel pump and primer to start the engine, as it has to pump fuel from the wings up to the engine; with the Cessna, fuel gravity feeds to the engine.  I’ve noted no difference in performance, in my limited experience.  One gripe about the Piper – it only has 1 door.  So you have to crawl across the right seat to get in and out.  Also, there’s only a small port window next to the pilot; contrarily, the Cessna has big fold-down windows to let air in.

Before my first flight, I did some light Googling and found that one can expect a loss of approximately 4F, for every 1000 feet of altitude.  So, if it’s 76F at sea level (which KPAO is, or at least close enough for this conversation), it should be 64 at 3000 feet.  I’m sure it was outside of the plane…but inside that goddamn greenhouse, it was winding out to the low/mid-80’s.  Flow through ventilation only does so much to fix that.

Regardless, thereabouts of mid-September, a few of the planes should be back from their annuals, so I might switch back, depending on availability and cost.  Now, the Piper cost me $123/hr.  This is in line with most of the Cessna’s, but some of the newer ones run about $145/hr.  Add $144 for 2 hours of the instructor time, and that’s a spendy afternoon, for not having any booze.  But more practically, part of the romance of flying is being able to take friends/girlfriend up for sightseeing and/or trips and part of that involves seeing the ground…which the 172 is better suited.

As for the student, he’s slowing progressing.  When I started, I had a hand in getting myself airsick.  That subsided on the second lesson (I bought a pack of ginger candies, just in case).  Last week, I was spending too much time looking at the gauges, taking my hand off of the throttle during maneuvers and not using enough rudder.  This week, I’m still spending too much time looking at the gauges – to the point he said that he’ll resort to blocking the gauges, if necessary – but I’m a little better.  I did much better keeping my hand on the throttle and was better using rudder.  Now, I need to adjust how much input I give to the plane – some turns were too steep, some not enough.  Also, I overshoot my heading and altitude marks, so I need to figure out when to actually stop the turn or climb/descent.  But this is all in due time, I’m told.  The good news is that – in the instructors words – I’m “nothing special”; everyone goes through some of this.

So that’s it for that.  I’m looking to have at least one lesson/week.  Some say it’s better to have two/week, but that gets real spendy real quick.  I often wonder how some folks with pilots licenses are actually able to afford it.  This is a hobby that makes boats and motorcycles look cheap, by comparison.

But back to the issue my father posed:  Is flying better than sex?  Me, in my mid-40’s – would say that both are zesty enterprises, but I would not be wiling to give up one for the other, just yet…