Friday September 27th 2002, 6pm, N5766J, 0.9H (0.1 Night)

The weather today was different, a weak area of low pressure was passing from the North. There was a lot of broken cloud and the wind was quite strong. I checked the ATIS at RHV a few times during the afternoon. At 2pm the wind was 10 knots at 220 degrees, at 3pm it had changed to 270 and at 4pm it had changed to 10 knots at 090, by 5pm it was 12 knots at 120. So what does this mean? Well, the runways at RHV are 31/13, that is to say they approximately line up on a heading of 310/130 degrees or roughly in a NW/SE direction. The “usual” wind in the evening time is from about 300 (or from the NW) so it blows pretty much straight down runway 31. A wind at 220 is 90 degrees off the runway heading so it is blowing directly across the runways. A 10 knot crosswind is no fun to land in (the maximum for the Cessna is a 15 knot wind and only if your a real expert), I have done very little crosswind landings because the winds are so kind to us at RHV, so a 10 knot crosswind would likely keep me on the ground for today. The big swings in wind during the afternoon probably indicate that the front was passing at that time, you normally see a big wind change as a front goes by. The wind went from the West (270), to Southwest (220), to East (090) and gradually back to Southeast (120) where happily it lined up nicely with runway 13 and I could fly without too much worry. But for the first time I would be using runway 13 and everything would be reversed from the usual pattern., that is, the pattern would now be flying in the opposite direction. I also spent a bit of time over lunch reviewing taxi procedures for crosswinds, its a surprise how many accidents are caused by a crosswind blowing planes over while they taxi, especially high wing planes like the Cessna 172.
It was a Friday so I left a little early and stopped by the Airport Shoppe to get a Pilots Operating Handbook for the C172N, which is the model I usually fly. The POH in the ground school kit was for the C172R, which is the new shiny version and had some different specs for performance. The POH is needed to answer some of the questions in the test papers Grainne gave me on Wednesday. When I arrived at Tradewinds Grainne was still flying with another student, so I went out and watched planes land on 13 and waited till she arrived about 6:15pm. Then I did the pre-flight on 5766J while she was finishing up. She looked pretty stressed out when she finally came out. She said they had been flying over at Palo Alto and there was a lot of planes in the pattern, plus they had the transition across class C airspace to get home. No problems with pre-flight, a very short taxi to the run-up area from where we were parked, some fancy foot work to fit in next to another plane for the run-up and then a good take-off along 13L.

We did 7 circuits of the pattern, with 4 landings and 3 go-arounds. Today, I was much more focused, I talked a lot less and tried as best I could to pretend that Grainne wasn’t there. For the most part things went well. The last couple of landings were reasonable and I think I am finally getting the flare worked out in my head, its just a process of making my reactions faster to the subtle clues just before you land. I did all the radio work, Grainne only spoke once on the radio, so I’m pretty comfortable with that part of the flying. My approaches were fine today, mostly on or a little above glide slope. One was rather high, but I just picked a spot a little further down the runway and we made it just fine. The take-offs, especially from the touch and go’s were a little different. Runway 31 is pretty unobstructed on departure, however, runway 13 has trees and buildings very close. We did a couple of takeoffs at Vx (best angle of climb) rather than at Vy (best rate of climb). I got the impression that Grainne felt I should have been a little more concerned about skimming above the top of the trees, and probably I should have. On the first or second landing, I initiated a go around when we ballooned quite high on the flare. Probably I could have recovered the landing, but it just felt nasty and the approach had been a little shaky as well so I hit the power when we lifted up. Grainne was actually pretty happy about this, I guess taking responsibility means making all the decisions and I know I have been relying too much on having her in the right seat to tell me what to do on landing. Either way that kind of set the tone for the day and it was nice flying. On one circuit through the pattern the Tower told us to extend our downwind for a Senaca that was coming straight in. For runway 13L, if you extend downwind you will be flying along class c airspace on your left. So you can’t just make a left turn onto base with the extended downwind or you will be in San Jose International’s airspace. The tower gave me two options, I actually didn’t hear the first one and the second was a right 270 turn and reenter the pattern on base. This made sense to me and it worked fine, including starting the descent early enough and in a non standard place (at the start of the extended base leg). Today, I also got my first taste of some easy crosswind landings, there was just a 3 or 4 knot wind blowing from the right. This was enough to have to crab into the wind and work the rudders in a positive manner to get straight on the center line.

All in all today’s flight really helped after the unpleasant experience of Wednesday. I still don’t have the flares right, but at least now I have a much better idea of why and what I have to do. I also “discovered” I was doing something really dumb right as we landed without even realizing it. Just as we touch down I was taking my feet of the rudder peddles. I’m not sure why I was doing this and I’m amazed I didn’t realize it before. Anyway it explains why I have been “heading for the grass” on any of the landings that bounce or balloon. I’ll pay close attention to this on the next flight and it should definitely help with control on the landings.