I couldn’t get a schedule slot until today, Grainne took Monday and Tuesday nights off. The weather over the last few days has been a little cooler, ATIS gave a temp of 28C with winds 290 degrees and 10 knots. Sunny and clear, but quite hazy. It looked yesterday like the smoke had finally gone away, but today I’m not so sure. I was about 15 minutes early and was sitting in the lounge when Grainne appeared. We discussed the flight, basically practicing emergency procedures, mostly engine failure. I got the key-book and headed out to pre-flight the plane. All standard stuff. I had booked N5766J again because I’m really getting to like this plane, it been mean to me yet (like the rough engine in N739YE, the radio’s in N4754D – twice and the lack of seat pockets and general beat up nature of N8276E). Grainne appeared as I finished the preflight and we ran through the usual stuff all now becoming routine. The taxi is no longer a problem. I made a nice take-off from 31R, straight and smooth down the run-way center line. You know, its really very very cool seating in the pilots seat, at the starting end of a runway, your planes noise wheel right on the center line, then just pushing in all the power and barreling down the line before lifting off the ground. Its not quite Battlestar Galactica but its pretty good. We turned through right traffic and headed south climbing to 4000’.
On the way up we simulated an electrical failure. There is a charge meter in the plane that indicates that current is flowing into or out of the battery. It should usually read 0 which means that the engines alternator is powering the plane. If it reads significantly positive or negative you have a problem. Negative means that the battery is powering the plane, this is not good, because the battery is really only for starting up the engine and as an emergency back-up if the alternator fails. If the meter reads positive then you possibly have an alternator that is generating too much current or voltage, this is a bad thing because it can damage the battery, the planes’s electronics or even cause an electrical fire. We pretended that we had a negative reading, and then ran through the emergency checklist for this failure. At this stage you may get the impression that there is a checklist for everything, and you’d be right. Never trust your memory, when you can have a trusty checklist to make sure. In this case, you switch the alternator on and off once to see will it recover, if not the you switch off everything electrical and make for the nearest safe landing. You need power to extend the flaps, so if you battery runs out before you manage to land then you have to land with no flaps. This is not fatal, but its not easy and generally seen as poor taste, and other pilots laugh behind you back.
Once up to cruse altitude Grainne showed me what to do in an engine failure emergency. Contrary to popular belief, the plane does not fall out of the sky when the engine stops. It just transforms itself into a glider. You simulate an engine failure by just setting the engine on idle, its still running, but not really providing any significant power to the plane. The trick with flying without an engine is to set the plane up as the best glider it can be, this means slowing it to its best glide speed, which is 65 knots in the Cessna 172. Then work out where your going to land, a runway would be nice, but any level ground will do in a pinch. lastly, you try and restart the engine. Engines are actually the one of the most reliable parts of planes. In most cases they only stop because they have run out of fuel which is of course the pilots fault, not the engines. So the first things to check are everything to do with making sure you have fuel and it can get to the engine. As we were simulating this, we pretended that we were unable to restart the engine and we headed for South Country Airport. Needless to say Grainne brought us in on a perfect approach to the runway and we could have easily landed. Instead, we did a go-around (full power, flaps up to 10 degrees, keep the nose from shooting up to far, start a climb at best climb rate and remove the last of the flaps once the climb has started). I flew back up to 3500’ and then it was my turn. No problem setting the best glide speed. I picked a nice flat field down below, but decided I was too high to get down safely and elected to do a 360 turn to loose altitude. I now realize that when you have no engine altitude is actually your very best friend. I came out of the 360 about 1000’ lower and then saw a landing strip off the end of the field I had picked to land in. This should be no surprise, Grainne has set me up to be over a landing strip called Frazier Lake, I just hadn’t realized it. Now I decided that I could make the landing strip but really didn’t have enough altitude to do it easily. I actually got lined up on the final with the runway in front of me, but we would have landed short of the runway and had a very bad day if we really had no engine. So another go-around and a climb up to 3500’. The marine layer clouds was just starting to cross the valley as we left Frazier Lake, its amazing how bumpy it gets if you even begin to get close to the clouds, I guess this is just their way of reminding you that they are a no go area for VFR student pilot.
Grainne was just asking me if I could see South County Airport when she cut the engine power. This time, I just headed straight for the 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern and decided if I was too high I would simply extend the downwind leg to loose the height. In the event I passed through the 1000’ point when I was abeam the numbers (pilot talk for passing the end of the runway as you fly past). This basically is right where you want to be for a normal approach so I decided to just fly the base leg and final as normal. Turned left, and then left again and was beautifully lined up with the runway. Made a fine approach and I could easily have landed. Altogether a much better attempt this time. I did the go around and we turned for home.
Over UTC, I contacted the Tower and headed for a straight in approach for 31L. This time I drove the plane and took care of he engine power. All in all a great approach, even through the Tower changed our runway to 31R less than a mile out after he had already given us clearance for 31L. This was no problem, just slide on over to line up on the parallel runway. The landing was OK, if just a little high, I had a full 40 degrees of flaps and idle power as we went into the flare so the plane just set itself down a little firmly on the ground. This time I turned off the runway onto taxiway D which is in about the middle, evidence that my even breaking has much improved. After yet another mix-up talking to ground control we were cleared to taxi to our parking space. This seems to be a recurring theme, I guess I so buzzed having just landed that I just lose it talking on the radio. I forgot to tell ground control where I was so his reply was “if your the plane at delta, then taxi to parking”. I didn’t really hear what he said then confused the “delta” in his message with my planes call sign and claimed to be “six six delta” instead of “six sis Juliet”. Oh well, I sure he’s familiar with student pilots by now.
This was a really nice flight and it was the first time I felt like I landed all on my own. Wow.