Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting a little alone time in an airplane

Autumn (Post flight wind 050/14)

Remember how in the last post I said we had a very small window with which to have calm winds here at Calhoun County? I guess I should have listened to myself and Autumn, the administrative assistant here at KPKV (folks that work at airports learn a lot about flying – even if they’re not pilots). Winds at 8:15am were from 090 (east) at 6 knots. Twenty minutes later they were 080 at 7k. Another half hour later, 8kts. Noticing the trend? Even though I had reserved the airplane from 10am - 12pm, Autumn said I should get up there and fly before the winds picked up. I knew I should have as well. But I was so nervous because today, I was going to fly all by myself.

The vast majority of you will wonder why that would make me nervous. Most of you would assume that an 18 year, nearly 5000 hour pilot would be over any nervousness by now. Others of you scoff, well, I fly by myself all the time. Again, I went from helicopters to multiengine aircraft, most recently jets. Flying a small single engine airplane is still relatively new to me. Total, I still have less than 100 hrs in them. Additionally, I’ve mostly been flying with instructors sitting next to me. You know, people who are very familiar with the airplane and can handle any emergency, especially the ones that I create.

Flying By Myself means that there’s no instructor, no safety pilot, no backup. Just me. Anything that could go wrong would be up to me to fix. My preflight took forever. I asked Autumn a million questions, like, can you watch me pull the plane out of the hangar? She said she’d do it, but I figured it was high time I did it myself.

I took forever to taxi (during which I announced my action on the UNICOM frequency, using the wrong airport name), forever to do my runup, mostly because I did everything twice (or at least read the step twice out of the checklist). An aircraft announced his intent to land here while he was still over 5 miles away while I was holding short of the runway and still I decided to wait til he landed. I didn’t want to get lined up for takeoff and feel pressure to go, go, go!

He landed and left the runway for parking. I lined up on the runway and “sang like a bird” like my instructor Sara had taught me: “Windsock check, Runway numbers check with Magnetic Compass and Heading, Mixture rich.” Ok, let’s do this! I pushed the throttle full forward and sang, “Check takeoff power set (back on the centerline), Oil pressure and temp check (centerline), airspeed alive (centerline), waiting on 55knots (centerline), rotate, pitch to Vy (best rate of climb – 74knots).”

I did three traffic patterns first, just to warm myself up. The wind increased a couple more knots, but not too bad still, so I left the pattern and flew to the practice area. I took this time to get comfortable sitting in the left seat again, and looking at the sight picture (argh, staring too much at that fancy G1000!). I did some clearing turns and then some steep turns. Steep turns are simply turns done at an increased bank angle while maintaining constant altitude and airspeed. I started out seeing if I could do the 45’ ones (standard bank angle is 30'), which are the private pilot standard. Winds out here were kicking up to 16-25knots, depending on my altitude, which meant that I was getting bounced around again. When I was pretty good with those I did the 50’ ones which are required for commercial pilots. That was a bit harder. I was all over the sky.

Ok, so let’s stretch the comfort zone.

Slow flight is a maneuver to demonstrate the handling characteristics of the airplane at speeds just above a stall, without actually stalling. I set myself up, and started doing some turns, at which time you’re supposed to get the stall horn because of the increased load on the airplane which increases stall speed. But my airspeed indicator was bouncing all over the place so I recovered.

All right, since it’s such a strong wind, how about some S Turns. These are 180’ turns done to either side of a road with the wind perpendicular to the road so that its effect can be seen in the rate of turn that you’d need to make equal semicircles on each side. For example, if you have a tailwind, your ground speed is higher, so you need a steeper turn so you don’t get blown away from the road. With a headwind, your ground speed is slower, so you have to draaaag out the turn so you’ll go an equal distance on the other side.

I tried to do 8’s on pylons, but hadn’t done the math to figure out the pivotal altitude, so I could tell it was a waste of time. Next time.

All right, now I was really getting a ride. The winds were clearly gusting and working against me. However, there was one thing I really needed to do before I went back. Can you guess? A stall.

So I did a power off stall, where you simulate that you’re on final for landing and you let the airplane get too slow as you continue to pitch up and run out of enough airspeed to maintain lift. Done. (Yay!) Time to go back.

What’s so great about the G1000 is the direct button. Press this and it shows you were home is. No one was in the pattern when I returned back to PKV, so I entered the pattern and did a pretty good short field landing. The next time I came around and did a go-around for practice. Then the last time the winds were now 070 at 14 gusting to 17. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

I taxied back in, and believe it or not, my post flight showed no damage to the airplane. I couldn’t believe that I had logged 1.3 hrs. In a way, it seemed like a very long flight, but I didn’t do a whole heck of a lot. Couple more flights, with a lot more preparation and I think it’ll show a difference. I’m very impatient with myself to get this done, but I have to remind myself that I am basically completing the private, commercial and CFI training simultaneously. Although I’m progressing quickly, there are some things I just have to work on and through!


  1. This was a good read. You go!

  2. It is amazing to know what a pilot must go through to accomplish a CFI. The emotions and fear of something going wrong with no instructor is scary. As you have shown, never give up and push through the fear cause it is worth the pay off in the end. Keep up the hard work and take a chill pill you are doing GREAT!!!!

  3. We all have those moments in ASEL during training and then from time to time thereafter. reflection afterwards and triage(prioritization of what's most important in a given situation) will lead to a confidence to deal with most situations without much thought. This will lead to confidence and staying ahead of the plane which will afford more time to think and utilize checklists. There are only 4 true emergencies in ASEL: Engine out landing, engine fire, electrical fire, and severe turbulence. Take a lesson from the commercial guys and develop cockpit flows for these 4 in your aircraft and review them in between flights to make sure your mind is current. Everything else is a walk in the park..Enjoy