Another beautiful California day, A 10am flight so it wasn’t too hot yet and not a whisper of wind stirring the wind-sock. Blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Yes, its an expensive place to live. Yes, the traffic sucks. But days like this more than make up for it all. I was supposed to fly N74754D, but it was down for maintenance so I was given N9552A which is a 1999 Cessna 172, almost new (20 years younger than 54D). Grainne turned up right on time and we went to pre-flight the plane. Other than fact that the new Skyhawk (i.e. Cessna 172) has 11 fuel drains, each one of which has to be checked, the pre-flight is much the same. The oil is much easier to check, you don‘t need to reach the top of the engine. Yesterday, I burnt my fingers on the dip stick on N739YE, the engine was hot and you have to do a gymnastic exercise to check the oil. Lovely leather seats in the cockpit. The instrument panel had a different layout from the older planes, but all the familiar gauges were there. If I say so myself, I did a great job of taxiing today. Grainne never had to help me and I did the radio talking to Ground Control and the Tower. We were told to “hold in position on 31L”, I got the plane stopped right on the center line. Then we were cleared for take off and we were off. We did our usual downwind departure and climbed to 5000’ which we reached just Northwest of Anderson Reservoir. First up was power-off & power-on stall practice. Grainne had given me a written procedure to follow an thankfully, I remembered it. First, clearing turns 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right to make sure the sky was free of planes. Then the maneuvering checklist, fuel tanks on both, mixture full rich, landing light on, engine on 2200RPM, speed less than Va (95knots), oil pressure & temp in the green, emergency landing spot picked out (South County). Power-off stalls are what can happen as you come into land, did a couple of them and they went great. I didn’t lose much altitude, though I gained a bit of altitude getting setup for the first one. Then my least favorite, power-on stalls – these are a roller coaster ride. I did three, the first and last were reasonable, though both times I ended up about 30 degrees off my original heading. The second one however was really bad. Once the plane stalls there really is no control over the wings, the plane can roll one way of the other. This time it rolled a long way left and you start to feel as if the plane will go into a spin (a very bad thing). We recovered, but ended up pointing in a completely different direction (at least 120 degrees off heading), plus I got a fright when the wing just seemed to want to head for the ground. Grainne said that even a little imbalance between the wings when you stall can cause one wing to stall more than the other causing it to drop (the other wing still has some lift I guess). Either way, its all about getting the correct rudder control as the plane stalls and then recovering quickly. This is really practice for a sudden emergency, if you do this on take-off you are seriously close to the ground and you don’t have a couple of hundred feet to recover. I guess I will practice these until the recovery becomes almost automatic, I hope the fear factor subsides with time as well. We then did some more forward slip practice. This was not as easy as the first time. I did not keep the nose down and the plane proved impossible to keep going in a straight line. One thing we both noticed was how much more sensitive the rudder was in this plane compared to the older planes. I had to think far more about rudder control than before, and a couple of times I way over compensated with right rudder. Finally, I got the forward slip working, by mostly keeping the nose down where it was supposed to be. Then we did some more simulated instruments with the foggles. It went well, turns, climbs and climbing turns at constant speed – no problems. Back over UTC we did a couple of 360 descending turns to get to a lower altitude before beginning our approach to Reid Hillview. I did the radio again, but stumbled on the call sign a bit when I repeated the landing instructions back to the tower. He got confused and decided we were “Trinidad 532A”, instead of “Cessna 552A”. We didn’t figure he was talking to us when he used the Trinidad call sign. Finally, he just said “will the plane 5 miles Southeast state their call sign”, so I did. We were cleared to land on 31L and everything was going fine except we were again too high and too fast coming in. We did another go-around the left traffic pattern. The turn onto final was good, but we were again a little high, this time however we got down if a little steeply. I swerved a bit on landing (over control of the right rudder again), but generally handled the taxiing ok including pissing of ground control by asking to repeat the instructions again (he sounded pissed to me). This time I even turned the plane in front of the parking space by myself for the first time.
One thing I’m starting to notice is that Grainne is giving me less and less step by step instructions (I’m sure this is intentional). She simply tells me the maneuver or expects me to know what to do (like actually take off when you get the clearance). This forces me to take more control or ownership of the situation. When you are a little scared or nervous about you abilities its very tempting to “let the expert take over”, but this is not really learning. Eventually, you’ve got to do this yourself so the sooner you start the sooner the confidence that you can do it will build. Feeling good about flying again after the weekend , ready to do it again. My next lesson is scheduled for Thursday night.