Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sweating out every little bit of improvement

I’m writing this at 7pm on a Saturday night and I am no kidding considering going to bed in an hour or so. But I’ve got to keep up with these blog entries so I don’t get too behind. But I am completely exhausted. I know I will get no sympathy complaining about the heat and humidity here in Southeastern Texas, not from my friends up north who just suffered through a snowstorm in April, and not from folks down here that say, “You think this is bad, you should be here in August.”

Vents above my head & in front of mike
In a small single engine airplane, there is no airflow in the cockpit until you’re flying because of the highly advanced cooling system developed to scoop outside air and drop it inside. Yes, you can open a window, but there’s still no airflow before the engine starts, and after start the noise from the engine makes it less than an ideal solution.

Even in flight, the heat from the sun creating a greenhouse effect in the cabin cannot be overcome by directing the air vents full blast at my face (probably another reason my eyes are bloodshot). You get to know people pretty well in that small cockpit – and their, uh, “essence” even better. By the end of the day no one cares what you smell like. After a flight I often look like something the cat dragged in, and depending on the day’s flying I may even feel it!

Looking back at my blog and logbook, I see that I last posted after flying by myself - for the first time in ages. The next day I flew again by myself and practiced some maneuvers again. I tried to push my envelope just a little further. A few more stalls, some more slow flight, etc. I figure that if I keep pushing on the edge of my comfort zone I just have to make it bigger…. It seems to be working.

The next day I was back with the instructor at Calhoun Air Center, Eric. We had just about an hour before the plane was needed for something else, so we just went up and did Power Off 180s. This is a maneuver simulating a power failure so the pilot can learn to fly the airplane with the power at idle on the downwind (we don’t exactly turn the engine OFF, at least not on purpose) to become comfortable with the glide ratio of the airplane. Yes, an airplane can glide to safety if the engine should quit. A good rule of thumb in many airplanes is 2 miles for every 1000 feet of altitude. For example, if you’re 4,000 ft AGL (above ground level), you can likely glide for 8 miles. That is, if you immediately adjust your airspeed to the Best Glide Speed (to give you the longest RANGE over the ground), you are likely to be able to travel up to 8 miles. You also have to consider the wind (darnit, you have to consider the wind’s effects on everything when you’re flying!) and other factors. Like if there’s a suitable place to put the airplane down within 8 miles. Because eventually it’s going to come down. As they say, “Takeoffs are optional, but landings are mandatory.” I’ll get back to that in a later post….

Target the "Aiming Point Markings" or 1000ft markers
Oh, I forgot to give you the whole title for this maneuver: Power-Off 180’ Accuracy Approach and Landing. This means that you have to state where you intend to land (on the runway – we’re not crazy enough here to actually practice putting it down into a farmer’s field) and then touch down there. That point, minus 0 feet, plus 100 feet. You gotta be accurate for that. The crazy thing is I don’t mind this maneuver because it reminds me of helicopter flying. You just kind of maintain the same attitude all the way around. I also learned so much about the flaps. When you can add and subtract power as necessary, you’re less concerned about what the flaps will do to the aiplane’s horizontal and vertical speed. Take away the power option, and all of a sudden you realize that a little flaps increase your lift and a lot of flaps increase your drag means a whole lot more. An option on this approach is to wait until you’re in ground effect (discussed previously) to add flaps to give yourself just a little lift – if it looks like you’re going to land short. Again. Minus 0 feet. Plus 100.

Amazingly enough, practicing this maneuver also greatly helped my landings. Remember how I said I always landed flat? Well, finally, in trying to streeeetch out my landing, I got that round out started higher and kept pitching that nose up to help me fly it on out. Eureka, I think she’s got it!

CFI Note: The Aviation Instructor's Handbook calls this  "Transfer of Learning," the ability to apply knowledge or procedures learned in one context to new contexts. A "positive transfer" occurs when the learning of skill A helps to learn skill B.

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