Tuesday September 24th 2002, 6pm, N4754D, 1.4H (0.3 Night)

A wildfire burns on the Santa Cruz Mountains near Morgan Hill, Calif., Tuesday, Sept., 24, 2002. Dry brush and hot weather helped spread the fire, which has grown to 1,600 acres, destroyed two outbuildings and is threatening at least 50 rural homes on the east side of the Santa Cruz Mountains. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

There is a major fire burning down in Morgan Hill called the “Croy Fire”. I saw a little smoke this morning as I drove to work, but this afternoon the smoke had completely covered the sky to the South and East. I made a couple of calls to RHV ATIS during the afternoon because I was worried that the smoke might close the airport if it moved up towards San Jose. In the event it stayed well to the South (not surprising as the wind usually blows from the North in the afternoons). Later, during the flight we had a spectacular view of the flames burning in the distance along the mountain ridges.

Tonight was a nice flight. The weather was hot again and there was a light wind blowing down the runway as usual. We had already decided that we would do some pattern work in RHV. The evenings are starting to get short and there really isn’t much time to fly anywhere else and get anything useful done while daylight remains. The traffic was bad and I arrived with only a little time to spare. Grainne was waiting for me, so I went out to pre-flight N4754D as soon as I arrived. The last time I flew this plane the radio’s didn’t work and we had to take another plane. The time before that, we had an electrical fire after landing and my radio didn’t work. So, I have avoided this plane until now, my favorite N5766J was already booked and this was the next best choice. Other than the radio, this plane is nice to fly, this time everything worked fine.

The taxi and run-up went without notable incident. We took off on 31L and entered left traffic. Now, while I’m much more ahead of the plane, its still difficult to remember particular landings in any detail. What I do remember was that today I did almost all the radio communications with the tower, I had no problems with flying the pattern, I was ahead of the plane the whole time and had time to actually enjoy the view. My approaches on final were generally good and I hit the correct glide slope almost every time. I have really got the hang of adjusting the power and keeping the nose in the right place to get the plane right where I want it over the numbers. My main sin is tending to be slow on final, I was often at 65 KIAS (Knots Indicated Air Speed) as I turned onto final. This is a little slow and close to stall speed for making a turn this close to the ground, its the biggest danger point for the classic landing stall (you overshoot final, going too slow, bank to much to recover so increasing your stall speed and then stall with only about 500’ between you and the ground – it would just spoil the whole day). I need to watch this more closely and try to be at least 70 KIAS on the turn, there is plenty of time to slow the last little bit on the final leg.

I believe, like most student pilots timing the flare is the hardest part of the whole landing. I either flared a little too fast and ballooned up or flared late or not enough. I did manage to get the trick of adding a little power if I ballooned and settling down fairly softly, but I didn’t always add it quite soon enough. The timing and feel of the round-out and flare is so fine that you really don’t have time to consciously think about what you are doing, its really got to be instinctive. I’m starting to believe its a little like learning to ski. You spend a ridiculous amount of time falling flat on your face (or behind), then suddenly you “get the feel of it” and while still not good you can suddenly ski. At least I’m hoping that is what will happen, otherwise its going to be a long slog. If the flare lasts about 10 seconds, then only about 60 seconds of my 1.4 hours in the air was spent practicing the most difficult part of the whole exercise.

I tried a forward slip on one of the approaches, this is only the third time I have practiced this, the first time was fine, but the other attempts were poor. Unfortunately this one was not much better. The first attempt I turned far too soon onto final while still at pattern altitude, so we didn’t have nearly enough time to get down. The tower told us to go around because the plane in front of us was still on the runway. The second attempt, I extended the downwind leg and so had more time to lose the altitude. However, it was very rough and jerky, just couldn’t get the balance between the opposed aileron and rudder. I did get down onto glide slope and land but it wasn’t pretty.

The only other incident of any note was the extended upwind leg. There was a plane entering on the 45 for right traffic. The tower told me to extend my upwind and he would clear me for the right turn. I dutifully flew upwind past the incoming plane, and then some more and then some more again with no word from the tower. I finally called the tower and asked to make the turn. I guess he missed me so maybe I should have just turned anyway.

All in all today’s flight was a blast. I think significant improvement over last Sunday down at South County. Grainne seemed pretty happy with it.