Today was my first dual lesson in a while after all the cross-country flying. It’s nice to have Grainne back in the right seat, not that I minded being on my own, but the stress level goes way down with a CFI and an extra pair of eyes. The weather is once again really beautiful, its hard to believe we’re past the mid-point of November, its sunny and warm with clear blue skies and just a few high clouds. Today’s flight is really the start of the last part of my training. Its all about practice for the checkride, getting my flying up to PTS (Practical Test Standards) and preparing for the kinds of situations and tasks I can expect in the checkride. Grainne has a new attitude, she pretending to be an FAA examiner. This means, she no longer tells me how to do stuff (unless I ask) and just tells me the maneuver she wants to see. We planned a flight down to the south practice area to go over the basics, steep turns, slow flight and stalls.
4754D is still grounded due to an oil leak. 5766J was grounded because of a bad battery and 8276E had something wrong with its rudder. It was lucky I had happened to book 739YE, the only 172N that Tradewinds still had flying! Had a nice normal pre-flight, taxi except for the lecture I received from Ground Control. On my first call some stood on my transmission and he missed part of it. He said something like “Aircraft at Tradewinds say again”, so I repeated the call, but omitted to say I was parked at discovery. He told me to taxi, and as I was on my way down Zulu he proceeded to lecture me for giving an incorrect location that screwed up his taxi instructions. “Just because your a Tradewinds aircraft doesn’t mean your parked at Tradewinds, you guys were parked at discovery and that’s what you should have told me”. I’ve have heard enough pilots arguing with either the tower or ground control to know its a waste of time so I just apologized and promised not to do it again, this usually keeps them sweet and massages their ego enough so they leave you alone.
I did a standard takeoff with the usual downwind departure. We climbed up to 4500’ and over Anderson I stated with a couple of clearing turns and the maneuvering checklist. Then a steep turn to the left and another to the right – these were damm near perfect. I lost about 100’ on the left turn, kept my altitude spot on the right turn but lost a little airspeed near the end. Then slow flight, power to idle, flaps all the way down, and pitched until I heard the stall horn, just above 40 KIAS and power back up to 2000 RPM to maintain altitude. Grainne had me do a few turns trying to maintain the 40 KIAS (stall horn blowing all the while), these were really quite hard. The plane turns on a dime at that speed so you make a 90 degree turn before you know it, plus the controls are really sluggish. It was also pretty hard to not let the airspeed creep up. After a few turns I setup for some power-off stalls. I did one of these on the stage II checkride, but that is the only one I’ve done in a long time, my lack of practice showed. The first one, I didn’t pitch far enough forward and lost about 200’ before recovery. On the second I pitched way too much forward and ended up pointing the nose almost straight down – this was dramatic and would have scared me to death before, this time I just laughed and said I believed I had the correct pitch bracketed on both the high and low sides. The third attempt was a bit better, but my heading veered to the right a bit. Hard to believe, but I need to practice stalls some more. We got turned around and tried a power-on stall. This went fairly well, but I find it hard to judge the amount of right rudder needed in 739YE when I put in full power. I remember glancing at the turn coordinator as I was pitching up for the stall and seeing the ball way over to the right. A touch of panic set in, an uncoordinated stall gets you into a spin. Sure enough, as the stall broke the plane veered right. But I got enough rudder in to have it straightened up as I pulled up after recovery. So Grainne was happy and I only had to do the one.
Finally, we tried an emergency descent, these are no longer on the PTS, but I wanted to do one so that if I ever needed it I have done at least one. There are two schools of thought on the emergency descent. One says, point the nose down and dive or spiral down at the limit of the yellow arc. The problem with this is you reach 1000’ doing an ungodly speed that you then have to loose in order to land. In addition, it puts a lot of stress on the airframe which you may not want to do if your plane is on fire and you don’t know the damage that may have already been caused. The other school says, slow to 85 KIAS, drop in full flaps and descend in a tight 45 degree banked spiral. This had the advantage of keeping you at a sane speed when you level out to try and land, but it assumes you still have the capability to use the flaps. I’m not sure which one gets you down faster, but I elected to try the second one. Being cautious I climbed back up to 4000’ to try it out. Power to idle, slow to 85 KIAS, put in full flaps and then pitch to keep 85 KIAS. With full flaps this points the nose down pretty steeply. Then spiral down. This was a lot of fun, we got a descent of about 1200 FPM, but I wasn’t very aggressive with the 45 degree turns, so I think I could have probably got down faster. You could get a descent rate of 1200 FPM out of a forward slip and I’ve read that this is a useful trick if your engine is on fire, because the nose is pointed sideways in a slip, you can get the smoke, flames, oil and odd engine parts to fly over the other side of the plane and not obstruct your view of the landing.
Grainne gave me the choice of going to South County or back to Reid Hillview to practice some short/soft field landings and takeoffs. I decided, time was limited so we would go back, that way we could get the maximum done without having to work out how long it would take us to bring the plane back. Over UTC she asked me what I’d do if I had a full electrical failure so I gave the usual talk about carefully entering the pattern and looking for light signals – personally I think I just go land in South County and call Tradewinds to come pick up me and their dumb plane. So while we decided not to simulate the radio failure (and I’ve had a couple of real ones already) but we would do a no flap landing. Thinking I should lose a little altitude I set the power a bit low (1500 RPM) and then waited half a minute before realizing that I was descending at almost 1000 FPM at 110 KIAS. I got slowed back to 90 KIAS and 500 FPM, but I was way too low as I came in over the hills south of RHV. Grainne pointed out my mistake beautifully by simply asking where I thought I’d land if my engine quit. I realized that except for a real difficult spot down by the freeway I would be toast. So point well taken, keep on glide slope all the way in. I know that I’ve been guilty of not doing this on my last few straight in approaches to RHV.
With no flaps, the whole game is using power and pitch carefully to control the descent. The nose is quite a bit higher without the flaps and its very easy to let it drop to the view your used to. There was a slight crosswind from the left and for the first time I consciously put in a side slip and held it to stay lined up with the runway. It worked a treat, I came out of the slip just above the ground and made a picture perfect landing without the flaps. This one felt good, Grainne thought so as well.
We had requested the option so I was cleared to cross 31R and taxi back via Yankee for another takeoff. I did a short field takeoff which was so so, I was a touch faster than Vx but otherwise ok. Then around right traffic and this time did a short field landing. The plane floated just a little and I didn’t get my wheels down on the numbers. Grainne said that the flare was just a little off, but I’m not sure exactly how. We did a touch and go and then a soft field landing that was pretty bad. I was kind of preoccupied with controlling the power that I let myself drift a little to the right (that crosswind again) and for the first time in a long time Grainne put her hands on the controls during a landing to bank just a little left to stay out of the grass. So from picture perfect on the first landing to beginner on the last. Still, its shows I need to really go out and practice the soft-field technique.
Today’s flight was good overall. Grainne says I’m on track for the stage III checkride at the end of the month. I just need to get caught up with study for the written test and get it scheduled sometime before the end of November. I finished all the CD’s in the Cessna Pilot Center kit so now its just studying the Glime Answer Book to make sure I’ve got the actual questions down.