Today was hot and hazy, 34C degrees on ATIS, but as usual the wind was light just 8 knots blowing right down the runway at 310. I always leave work bang on 5pm if I’m flying, its about a 40 minute drive in traffic, but anything can happen and I don’t want to arrive hot, bothered and late for flying because of a jam on the freeway. Today the traffic gods smiled upon me and I arrived about 20 minutes early. Grainne arrived about 10 minutes later and sent me out to preflight the plane. Good old 66J again, I really like this plane. No issues with preflight, Grainne arrived and we got through the taxi and run-up checks. I made a fine take-off from 31R and a downwind departure. Everything was smooth and for once I forgot nothing (not even the transponder or the climb checklist). Today I would finally get to practice stalls again, slow flight, some more instrument work and some slips. Of course as we decided that we wouldn’t do any pattern work the airport was almost deserted with nothing in the traffic pattern. We climbed to 4000’ and leveled off over the North end of Anderson Reservoir. I was just making my first clearing turn when we spotted a yellow bi-plane doing aerobatics right in front of us, at the same time another plane was under him at about 1000’ and we had passed two other planes while climbing. I guess, its just Murphy’s aviation law that there will always be planes around when you’d rather have the sky to yourself. We decided to head further South to get some clear space for maneuvers.
A little North of Frazier Lake after some clearing turns we started with the slow flight. This was fun, it appeared that N5766J is almost unstallable. I slowed to 40 knots and still had to really pull back to force the plane into a stall, we didn’t even get a stall warning at 40 knots. Grainne also had me try to stall the plane by turning at 45 knots without adding any power. No luck, but I may have kept the nose a little down to keep the airspeed at 45 knots as we turned. Its amazing how tight a turn you can make at the slow speed. Generally this was a really well behaved plane at these slow speeds. All the power-off stalls went fine, I think I did three or four. Then it was time to try power-on stalls. I hated these the last time, I couldn’t seem to keep the plane coordinated, which got us into an incipient spin on one attempt. This time things went better. Pull the power back to 1500 RPM, pitch the nose for 55 knots which is rotation speed. When you reach that speed apply full power and just keep pulling back on the elevator until the stall breaks. Then forward on the elevator, recover from the stall and level off. This time the plane stayed coordinated, I kept my heading well, actually any deviation was because I didn’t put in enough left rudder while I was slowing to 55 knots. My only problem was being too timid to push the elevator forward when the stall breaks. You see, after the break the nose is pointing straight down (well downwards anyway) so the natural reaction is to try to pull it up which is the wrong thing to do. You need to let it go and gain airspeed then level off. So while my headings stayed good, I lost too much altitude on most of the attempts. After three or four goes I decided I had enough stalls for one day and we started heading back towards RHV.
We had worked our way quite far South so I started following highway 101 North. Alongside South County Grainne decided it was time for hood work. The hood performs the same function as the foggles I had used before, only its better at blocking your view out of the plane. Grainne had me do a constant speed descent at 90 knots and then some turns to headings on the way down. We descended to 2500’ where she had me level off and do some more turns to a heading. The only problems I had was with the rudder. I was keeping “my foot on the ball”, that is applying enough rudder to keep the ball in the turn coordinator centered, however, this kept me drifting left. I could see my heading was changing but I couldn’t seem to get the right amount of rudder to keep it steady. I had just about decided it was the planes fault when Grainne told me to just leave the rudder alone and when I did the plane came into perfectly coordinated flight and kept its heading. We did a few turns left and right and as I was doing this Grainne called the tower, so I guess we were over UTC. I was wondering would she have me keep the hood on until we were on short final to land. I had read about CFI’s doing this because it simulates what it would really be like to emerge from the clouds just short of the runway and then have to land as is common in IFR conditions. In the event, she let me take off the hood about 5 miles out.
As usual I was a little high on the approach, rather then use flaps Grainne told me to do a forward slip. This worked great the last time I tried it so I expected no problems. We were cleared to land on 31L and I had a good line on the approach. Then I tried the slip, I just couldn’t seem to balance the rudder and the ailerons to get into a stable slip. The plane just wanted to go one way or the other. Finally Grainne help get into the slip and then I held the controls, once setup it felt fine. While all this was going on the Tower changed our runway to 31R and I had to slip/drift/move over to line up on the new runway. Coming out of the slip was not very pretty, we were just short of the runway and getting the wings level and the plane pointed down the runway was a little stressful. For the first time I noticed Grainne didn’t have her hands on the controls as were landed – for the first time it would be just me landing the plane. I leveled off at the right time and then as usual flared just a little too fast and the plane floated upwards. Grainne reached for the controls and helped me start over, just level the plane again and try the flare again. This time the wheels touched the tarmac but we floated up again. Third time lucky, we stayed on the ground. So I got three landings for the price of one approach. I let the plane run to the end of the runway, though I had some problems breaking evenly – this is an old problem I thought I had conquered. I stopped on taxiway echo, radio’d Ground Control and was cleared to taxi to parking. Once I parked Grainne told me I had forgotten the after-landing checklist.
Its clear that Grainne is now not telling me what to do. She expects me to remember what to do and when to do it. I actually have to press her to give me directions. I can see that this is all preparation for when she’s no longer sitting in the right seat and I have to fly on my own. While I’m looking forward to the milestone of my first solo its only starting to sink in how much I have to remember on my own and how much more concentration this will require. I have unconsciously been using Grainne as my long term memory expecting her to tell me what I forget when I forget it. And I still forget plenty. For instance, I seem to have a mental block about carb heat. I either forgot to turn it on or off several times today. Next time I’m going write a large red “C” on the back of my right hand so that I see it every time I reach for the throttle.
I’m on vacation this Thursday until the 14th of September, Grainne is leaving on the 12th for her vacation so we won’t fly together again until at least Saturday the 21st, three weeks from now. She has recommended another CFI and suggested I get a couple of flight in before she gets back. I hope I’m not too rusty after the break.