My first flight in 3 weeks. I was a bit apprehensive that I would totally suck when I got back into the plane. The weather was typical, but it was hot, not a cloud to be seen. I had booked a new CFI for this flight, Grainne had recommended him and let him know I would by flying while she was on vacation. He turned out to be a fairly young, short little guy called Yoed Shani, and a great instructor. I was early and he was there when I arrived so we started right away. He did a much longer pre-flight briefing compared to Grainne. We went over what I had done and planned a flight to brush up on the basics, slow flight, stalls and some steep turns. I went out to do a pre-flight on 5766J. Everything looked good other than a bald spot on the nose-wheel tire. I did a normal taxi, run-up, take-off and downwind departure. handled almost all the radio work. To my great relief I didn’t appear to have lost too much during the break.
We flew down to Anderson Reservoir and did the standard maneuvering checklist and clearing turns and then some slow flight. This was where the rust started to show. I had to walk through the whole procedure in my head, because I really wasn’t sure exactly what I had to do. I guess, this is a big part of the learning process, but when the CFI says “OK, lets do slow flight” or some other maneuver I find it really difficult to remember exactly what I should do, I know I need to throttle back the engine, but how much ?, pitch for what speed ? put in how much flaps? and so on. Still, we got through it and the slow flight was fine. We did a couple of power-off stalls without much problem. As usual I just need to remember to level the plane quickly when the stall breaks. On one stall I was slow to bring the engine back to full power so we lost more height than we should have. Then some more clearing turns and Yoed showed me a power-on stall. The contrast with when Grainne had done this was huge. Grainne’s first power-on stall was a bit like a roller-coaster while Yoed’s was really gentle. I am much more used to what the plane does in a stall by now, so that may be part of the explanation why Yoed’s was so much less frightening. I mentioned the problems I had had with keeping coordinated in a stall on N9552A (the almost new Skyhawk I flew back in August). So he showed me something neat. He stalled the plane with power off and then just kept it in the stall while he had me work the rudder. It was no big thing. We were totally stalled and it was easy to just keep the plane straight using the rudder. Other than we were dropping out of the sky at about 1000 FPM (and the buffeting and the stall horn) you would believe you were in straight and level flight. A good technique to take away any fear about keeping coordinated in a stall. Another thing he did just after the power-on stalls was to prove to me that the trim setting doesn’t matter and you can always compensate for it with the elevator. I had been avoiding trimming the plane as I slowed down to setup for the power-on stall. I didn’t want a lot of nose-up trim when I hit full power (it will make the nose jump up even faster). This is kind of dumb because you want the nose to come up to get into the stall anyway. He had me just fly straight and level and then keep that attitude no matter what. He then turned the trim wheel as far forward and as far back as it would go. You can feel the pressure on the elevator first forward and then back, but you can always keep the plane level. A very nice trick to remove any fear about where the trim is set. I think worrying about trim is a bit like a new car driver asking what way the wheels are pointing before they start the engine.
Another key thing Yoed told me that lead to one of those “ah ha” moments, was “Whenever you change the flight attitude or configuration, LOOK OUT OF THE PLANE”. I realized that whenever I did anything I was always looking at the control or the instrument as I was changing it. For example, glancing at the attitude indicator when starting a turn. As soon as I stopped doing this, my turns got better. Another example, is learning to judge the engine RPM by sound rather than looking at the tachometer. So when you want to slow down or descend, just set the power where you think it should be make sure the plane does what its supposed to do and then give a quick glance to make sure the RPM is about what you want.
We did a couple of steep turns, one left and one right. This was only the second time I had done these. They are fun and I think Yoed uses them as a kind of reward to good behavior. They want well and again focusing outside the plane the whole time and using the horizon to get the right bank angle made them a whole lot better.
The Sun had set as we turned to fly back to RHV. It was full dark by the time we got over the buildings at UTC where we normally contact the Tower. No problem picking out the airport, there is a flashing beacon and the VASI lights were easy to see. There were three planes ahead of us approaching the field. I guess this is coming home time for a lot of folks and the Tower was really busy. He was making some folks go around so we slowed down a little early to let the traffic stay ahead of us. The landing approach went just fine, and the landing looked great until we hit the tarmac with all three wheels. I think I was looking too close to the plane and misjudged the height slightly. I dropped the nose just a bit when I should have just continued the flare and we set down on three wheels. A little rough, but it was all mine and my first true night landing. I had my GPS setup wrong so I didn’t get a GPS track of the flight.