Sunday, May 01, 2011
Experience is the best teacher
We two pilots had an interesting time trying to figure out how to line up the Hero Cam, now attached to the right window of the airplane but facing out, to capture an aircraft on final and through a touch and go (airplane lands but then takes off without taxiing back to the departure end of the runway). I chose to swing a very wide downwind and let Steve, the other pilot, fly his normal traffic pattern. I kept him in sight all the time and flew to the left of his final and tried to time his ever slowing airspeed with mine. The first time, I was too slow (or rather, never caught up), the second time, too fast, and the third time we were right on. So we went out to fly some air to air, really. We flew out at about 1500 feet and tried to parallel courses. We got what we thought was close enough for a good visual. Unfortunately, when we actually viewed the footage we discovered that the Hero’s “fisheye” lens made everything look even smaller, so our winning formation flight captured an image of an airplane that we was pretty sure was a Cessna product, but not much more. However, again, flying around in the 172 this way vastly increased my comfort level in it – but nothing we did reinforces the maneuvers I have to do for the checkride. [What does that say about the checkride…?]
We did a few more traffic patterns at Victoria, and Steve reassured me that my less than stellar landings in the 182 were to be expected. The winds were gusty, the airplane was heavier, etc., etc. Me, being the perfectionist I am (just listen to the instructors of AcroCamp calling me “intense”), asked Steve to demonstrate a landing. My landings were pretty inconsistent, not surprisingly since so is the wind. On the turn to final is where environmental factors will get you. Not only do you have to deal with the wind, but as you get closer to the ground, thermals can affect the airplane’s path. Thermals are columns of rising air due to the uneven heating of the earth. A dark brown field absorbs more of the sun than a row of trees. Additionally, the wind can change close to the ground because of tall trees surrounding the airport. If you’re planning on a 15 knot crosswind on final because that’s what you have at traffic pattern altitude, you have to also plan for the crosswind to drop when you’re below the treeline. Have I mentioned wind affects everything in flying?
Let me tell you, it was windy and gusty, but again, right down the runway. The recommended maximum crosswind is 15knots, but theoretically, the wind could be up to 100knots as long as it’s right down the chute. Just don’t plan on a smooth landing. So, Steve, who I greatly admire, in the air on the ground working at Calhoun Air Center, shall we say, “planted” one. Steve was really embarrassed (and to be fair he’d never landed from the right seat) but all I could do is thank him. He just showed me how far the parameters were for a safe landing. My confidence went up a few points. (P.S. Steve reluctantly gave me permission to tell you that. Listen, if any pilot tells you they don’t crash land every once in a while, feel free to stick your thumbs in your ears and wiggle your fingers. Then repeat after me, “Liar, liar, liar.”)
So I taxied out to the departure end of the runway with winds just howling up my backside and as I took off (in the opposite direction) I thought, “You know, Lynda, that takeoffs are optional, but landings are mandatory.” Taking off is easy, but there was no one to help me put it down in Port Lavaca. All the way over I tripled checked the checklist to make sure I didn’t mess up the cowl flaps, or the prop, or the leaning of the engine. And then it was time to land. Turns out I had an audience. Autumn, David, who also works at the airport, and Ed, another student at the school. All three gave me a thumbs up and I did a little dance when it was done. I think that was worth ten or twenty points at least. Both flights the airplane was just swaying in the wind, so as I write this I have that post- roller-coaster or day-at-the-ocean feeling of still rocking.
Looking back on the day, I think the quote on the top of my blog sums it up pretty well. I used to change the quote every so often but this one by Eleanor Roosevelt (one of my heroes) always speaks to me.