Well Sunday’s flight got cancelled. Grainne called me at 8am to say that the weather didn’t look good and the fog was unlikely to lift before noon. Oh well, I guess this is how the rest of the country lives, but its just so not California to have the weather cause a problem. I decided to go get breakfast as I was already up at this ungodly hour on a Sunday morning. About 9:30am I emerged from my local purveyor of fine breakfast food to beautiful bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky. I called ATIS at RHV and sure enough visibility was up to 5 miles with broken cloud at 2500’, which I’m sure would be gone in a very short while. If we had only had faith in California, we would have decided that the weather would clear, gone to the airport with hope in our hearts. And we would have been rewarded. Next flight is scheduled for Tuesday, then its vacation for two weeks.
I woke up this morning and the weather was cold and gray. The marine layer fog was firmly over San Jose. When I called RHV ATIS about 9am the visibility was just 2 miles with a overcast ceiling at 1300’. This is not VFR flying weather. I was even unsure if I should go to the airport, I thought I’d look pretty silly turning up expecting to fly when the weather was so obviously bad. However, I figured it might burn off by the time I got there, it didn’t. I was early and waiting for Grainne and the clouds were unchanged. Grainne arrived just before 10:30am and told me that we wouldn’t be able to do the planned stalls, slow flight and hood work we had intended, but that we could do some more pattern work because this was low and close to the airport. I got the key book and headed out to the plane which was parked beside the Tradewinds maintenance shop (first time I’ll drive a plane from this part of the airport). Sure enough as I was doing the pre-flight checks the clouds started to break and by the time Grainne came out the sky was mostly blue. By the time we got to the runway it was almost all blue, but still hazy so we kept with the plan to do the pattern work. That’s summer weather in the Bay Area, if you could just predict exactly when the burn-off will happen it would be perfect.
This time I took off from 31R so we would be using the right traffic pattern. The turns are a little more difficult because you can’t see out that side of the plane as well and you really need to use the right rudder to make the plane turn (the plane will turn left if you just take your feet of the rudder). The first landing attempt was terrible, we were way too high and had to do a go around. I think I got a little ground shy on final and was going too fast anyway. Again, everything became a blur of takeoffs, checklists, turns and landings. I got better with the checklists and I didn’t forget the carb heat or transponder as much. Again it started to get busy with a lot of planes landing and flying the pattern. We did more landings to a full stop today rather than touch and goes this really helps slow the pace and helps you keep up with the plane. At one point we were told to line up and hold while a plane took off directly in front of us. He was climbing away when we were cleared to takeoff. So we took off following right on the guys tail. It was the first time I have been so close behind an another plane flying the same way. We had to wait for him to pass us on the downwind before we could turn to the crosswind and we were nearly over I680 before we were cleared to turn (I680 is the boundary of Class C airspace for San Jose International). At this point two (count them – two) planes joined the downwind leg at its mid point so now there were four planes all flying the downwind leg, the first guy was just turning onto base, the other two spaced along the field and us having just turned from crosswind. The GPS track that goes way outside the others was this trip through the pattern. We were told to extend our downwind to allow all three planes to land. So this time we did not start to descend until we turned onto final.
All in all today was not a stressful as last Thursday, I was more ahead of the plane and there was some incremental improvement in the landings and the control on final. Sill a long long way to go, buts it nice to see something change flight to flight. I’m scheduled to fly tomorrow at 9am, but if the weather is like today, there is no way the fog will have cleared by them. Grainne has my phone number and she’s going to call if it looks like we have to scrub the flight.
Nice sunny day, light winds, standard summer weather. Today we decided to do pattern work, which is basically practicing landings and working close to the airport in the standard traffic pattern. I hoped that by doing the pattern work on a week night we would mostly have the airport to ourselves – how wrong that turned out to be. We started with some time on the white board while Grainne explained what had to get done as we flew the pattern. There is a lot to do in a short time while handling the close proximity of other planes, relatively close to the ground in bumpy air while talking to the control tower. It was nice to go over it before getting into the plane.
The airport traffic pattern is a rectangular course around the airport, with one of the long sides of the rectangle being the runway you are using. If you go around the rectangle making left turns its called left traffic and right turns are right traffic. Left traffic patterns are more common, mainly because the pilot has more visibility from the left seat, its also easier to turn the plane left as it wants to go that way anyway (at least for me). The basic sequence around the patterns after take-off is as follows. Climb to above 500’ on the outbound leg, make a turn to the crosswind leg. Then make another turn to the downwind leg about which time you will be reaching pattern altitude of 1000’ above the ground (AGL) which is the pattern altitude in RHV. Level off and complete the pre-landing checklist as you fly parallel to the runway about 0.5~1 mile away. This is where the plane starts to get ahead of you, at the start your still trying to remember everything on the checklist as you reach the end of the run-way, otherwise known as abeam the numbers (meaning the big white numbers painted on the end of the runway). At this point hopefully the checklist is complete and you start descending by putting on carburetor heat, bringing the engine back to 1500 RPM and putting in 10 degrees of flaps. You should get a descent rate of about 500 FPM and you can trim the airplane for this rate. As the end of the runway passes about 45 degrees over your shoulder you start the turn onto the base leg. You have to be watching your airspeed and descent rate to make sure your not going too fast or descending too fast or too slow. You can see the end of the runway out the left window, its hard to describe when you start the turn onto the final leg, but you basically want to make a 90 degree turn and end up pointed down the runway your going to land on. At this point your putting in more flaps, and reducing the power to slow the plane down. You need to be at 65 knots before your wheels touch the ground. With engine power, pitch and flaps you control speed and descent rate and rudder to keep the planes nose pointing down the centerline to get the plane about 20’ off the ground moving in the right direction. Then gently (no really I mean gently) you level the plane out and then even more gently keep pulling back to make the flare. If you do it right the plane just decides to stop flying a few inches above the ground and you touch down like a feather. Well enough of the theory, it was out to N5766J to see if I could do it for real.
I did a standard pre-flight, run-up and take-off. This is all becoming routine by now. We had requested runway 31L so we could use left-traffic. We were cleared to cross 31R and takeoff on 31L. My takeoffs are fairly smooth and down the center line of the runway, I just need to be carefully about drifting left during the initial climb. Drifting like this is a bad thing because with two parallel runways someone else can be taking off beside you, thought a left drift not really bad if your already on the left runway.
Now I’d like to give my usual detailed account of the next hour of flying time, but frankly its just a blur of landings, take-offs and trying to remember everything at the right time. I didn’t even know how many landings we did until I counted them on the GPS track. My theory that we would have the airport to ourselves turned out to be totally wrong. More and more planes just started to appear in the pattern. There was always one to three planes in the pattern with us, and there were always another couple of planes in right-traffic as well. Even Grainne commented that this was about as busy as it gets. At one point a Citabria (according to Grainne a very slow type of tail dragger plane) just appeared to want to use our runway to land even though it was on right base (we were on left base). It just totally overshot its turn to right final. We got out of the way and did a go around, that is the GPS track the turns to the left in the middle of the runway. We saw the same plane a few minutes later screwing up its turn from outbound to crosswind. It was following a Cessna that was only just beginning its turn onto crosswind, when it also started to turn. This is pretty bad because it sets up the planes to collide. We heard the tower warning the Cessna what had happened. We did a bunch of landings and touch and goes. The landings to a full stop give you a chance to catch your breath and catch up with the plane. The last take-off was on 31R to try the right traffic pattern. We did a practice emergency landing when Grainne pulled out the throttle just as we were abeam the numbers. That landing was actually pretty good, probably because I didn’t have to worry about engine power (it was supposed to be broken).
Mostly, I think I did OK. I kept forgetting to turn on carb heat before reducing engine power, forgetting to turn on my landing light and transponder before takeoff and generally not being in full control on the final leg. Just way to many things to handle in a short space of time. We had no really bad landings that I remember in particular. But I never felt like I got the feel of exactly how I should do the landing flare. I strongly suspect that my definition of a good landing (plane and people on the ground undamaged) will change and I will become a landing snob, it won’t be good unless its so gentle that you have to get out of the plane to convince yourself your actually on the ground. For now I’m happy and I’m sure I’ll improve with practice, practice and then some more practice. I was pretty tired and ready for a cigarette by the time we parked the plane.
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.
Great fight, really relaxing. Another fairly clear California evening. But a lot of haze apparently from fires that are burning in Oregon. The wind was 10knots at heading 300 (I now have the RHV ATIS telephone number programmed in my cell phone and I check it on my way to the airport – that way I know what to expect when I hear it on the radio). Temperature was 28C, 7 miles visibility and clear . This seems to be the standard weather for RHV in the summer. Its certainly nice flying weather.
Grainne decided we should try flying to a different airport this time to practice pattern flying and landing and do some steep turns along the way. Our choices were Livermore or Watsonville. I figured that as Watsonville is near the coast it would be fogged in (as anywhere near the coast is in the summer time here). Grainne called the ASOS which is something like ATIS. Sure enough there was broken cloud cover, so we decided to head for Livermore. This was great because it means I get to fly more or less right over my house for the first time. I went ahead on out to pre-flight N4754D, no problems there. Grainne arrived (and as usual rechecked some of the really critical stuff herself), then we started the pre-taxi checklist. I tried to call, Ground Control to get clearance to taxi and they never heard me. Grainne tried and they didn’t hear her either. Now you may remember that N4754D was the plane we flew that had the radio short circuit just after landing last week. It looks like the combination of me, radio and this plane are fated not to work. The log showed the plane had being flown earlier that day, we assume with no problems. Either way after trying both radios all the mics (mine, Grainne’s and the cabin mic) we decided that we weren’t going to fly 54D today. Back to the office, Grainne looked for another plane and I filled out a squawk sheet for the radio. The out to N5766J which is an old Cessna Skyhawk II. It seemed a little bigger than the other Skyhawks and certainly had bigger seats. We split the pre-flight checks between us and got on our way. In the rush to get flying I forgot to turn on my GPS so that’s why there is no GPS track for today’s flight.
Oh how things change, Grainne actually told me to slow down as I taxied down Zulu. Got all the turns done pretty well, did the radio and ran through the run-up checklist without problems. We were cleared for takeoff on 31R, I got the plane lined up and we took off without a problem. I now seem to have the rudder under control during the takeoff and Grainne actually told me “good takeoff”. This time we were flying more or less North, so its about a 45 degree turn off the runway heading (310 degrees). The Tower has to clear you to make the turn, which needs to happen before you reach interstate 680 – this the boundary of San Jose International Airport Class C airspace. We got clearance and turned for the hills just behind my house on course to pass over Calaveras Reservoir. A nice simple climb up to 4000’ which we reached over the lake. The smoke layer was sitting right at 3000’ and was only about 100’ thick – a light gray horizontal layer just hanging above the tops of the hills. Once you got above it really cut the visibility to the ground in the distance, but didn’t really effect the area close by.
I did a couple of clearing turns and the maneuvering checklist and then Grainne showed me how to make steep turns. These are basically 45 degree turns and they are fun. You bank the plane about 30 degrees, then add a little power (100 rpm) and increase the bank to 45 degrees. You have to apply a reasonable amount of back pressure to keep the nose up and not lose altitude. I did a couple of 360 turns to the left and a couple to the right. I was using the setting Sun as my start finish reference for the turn. After we came out of the second turn lined up with the Sun we were seeing it directly through the smoke layer. It was a deep red and a huge sunspot was clearly visible on the eastern limb. I usually check out the “solar weather” on the web every lunch time. I live in hope of seeing the Northern Lights someday (without a trip to Alaska). I missed them July last year when there was a huge solar storm that pushed them as far South as the Bay Area (I was watching TV and didn’t hear about until after it was over). Anyway, I knew that this was sunspot number 69 and it is the largest one on the Sun’s face at the moment. It was really cool to see it flying an airplane over the Sunol Valley.
After the steep turns we headed for Livermore. I contacted the tower and we did a couple of 360 turns to lose altitude in order to enter the traffic pattern at 1400’ MSL (that is Mean Sea Level). We were cleared to land on 25L with left traffic. I did a good 45 degree entry to the pattern, a turn onto the downwind leg, a turn to base and then a turn to final and I was pretty well lined up with the runway. Livermore has a big runway and a little one, 25L is the little one. We did a touch and go which went without a problem. I controlled the steering and the power until just near the end and Grainne took care of the Go part once our wheels touched the ground. We did a crosswind departure (a left turn once we reached 800’) and climbed back to 3500’ for the flight home. I called RHV tower over the Calaveras Reservoir and were given right traffic for runway 31R. Then began the comedy of trying to find the airport through the smoke. I mistook Capitol Expressway for I680 and was looking in completely the wrong place. I’m saying “I can’t see the airport” and Grainne is saying “are you sure, I can see it fine”. I finally looked at her and there was the airport right in front of the right wing clear as a day with all its lights and beacons flashing. I felt a bit stupid. I did another reasonable 45 degree entry into the downwind leg, starting descending abeam the numbers and then a right turn to base and another fairly quickly onto final. I actually turned a bit early onto final and we had to fly a “dog leg” (what Grainne called it), which amounted to flying a bit to the left and then completing the turn onto final lined up with the runway. We were a little high, but not much and the landing was smooth. Grainne is still helping with the flare but I’m really starting to get the feel of it. I’m looking forward to practicing landings. We left the plane run down the runway until the last taxiway exit. This saves on the brakes and it gave me a chance to practice even breaking when the plane is not traveling too fast. We were cleared to taxi directly to the parking area and again I had no problems parking the plane. This taxiing is starting to almost become routine.
Tonight was a lovely flight to spite the problems with the radio’s in 54D. I’m really starting to see my skill progress and starting to gain confidence in my ability to make the plane do what I want. Grainne is off this weekend so I won’t be able to fly until at least next Monday – I can’t wait.
I’m going on vacation soon so I decided to try and get as much flying in as possible before I go. Grainne is off next weekend so I scheduled an extra lesson today at the last minute. A Monday evening and nobody else seems to be flying. The parking lot at Tradewinds is almost empty. The weather is good, it seems cooler than the weekend, but ATIS says its 30C. Wind is 10knots from 300 which is almost parallel to the runway. Normal preflight on a plane that I haven’t flown before. We go from riches to rags, yesterday’s plane was only a couple of years old, today’s seems to be the oldest and most worn so far. A real problem is that the cockpit doesn’t have pockets where I can put my checklist, pen and paper. Grainne, suggests I get a kneeboard even though I won’t really need it until I start my cross-country flights. Still, I could have used it today. Also the plane is facing the opposite way in the parking area, so I’ll have to taxi out the long way round the ramp. I call ground control and they don’t seem to hear me (again!), the Grainne says that she can’t hear herself in her headphones, and she starts turning knobs and buttons all over the place. A comedy of “can you hear me now?, no, and now I can’t hear myself” conversation followed as we twisted and turned everything in sight. Finally, it seemed to work and I said “I can hear you”, followed by ground control on the radio saying “we all can hear you”. Somehow we got a mic button stuck open in the process and broadcast our conversation to the whole world. This was funny in an embarrassing sort of way, we couldn’t work out how we got an open mic, both buttons appeared to be working. We tested it a few times just to make sure. Good taxiing down to the run-up area, got the last couple of checklists done and taxied over to 31R hold line and called the tower. They cleared us for takeoff and I got onto the runway and did a passable job of taking off. Much less serving compared to yesterday. Started the climb out and I had some trouble achieving the best rate of climb speed (73knots) then plane just didn’t seem to want to accelerate. Then Grainne noticed that I didn’t have the throttle in all the way. I had had my hand on it until 500’ so she didn’t see until I took my hand off. You keep your hand on the throttle up to 500’ in case it try’s to slip out in the critical climb off the ground. Right turn onto the crosswind leg and another onto the downwind and a climb up to 3500’. Today we are heading down to Hollister to do some ground maneuvers. It is quite a long way, but we will be flying in circles at 1000’ so we have to find an area without much population to do it. I guess we are both in a lazy frame of mind so we just enjoyed the flight down. The only event along the way was another plan flying towards us at the same altitude. He passed us about 3 miles on the left. We were flying Southeast at 3500’, so technically he was at the wrong altitude. Planes flying VFR on courses north to south (0~179 degrees) are supposed to fly at old thousands of feet +500 (eg. 1500,3500,5500 etc). Planes flying 180~359 degrees should fly even thousands +500 (2500,4500,6500 etc). A few miles north of Frazier Lake airstrip (a grass strip along side a water strip for sea planes), we started descending in a glide to try and work out the surface wind direction. You look for smoke or dust blowing in the wind, or the surface of a lake, the windward side has a calm area along the shore. In the end we cheated and over-flew the windsock at Frazier Lake. The wind was more or less blowing from the Southeast. We found a useful railway line about 3 miles east of Frazier Lake and Grainne showed me flying S-turns along the track. The whole trick here is compensating for the crosswind. Another trick is finding a straight line on the ground that is perpendicular to the wind. Its all about varying the bank angle as you turn to account for the wind. Shallow banks when you fly into the wind, steep banks when you fly with the wind. No violent maneuvers, just fun turns trying to finely control the airplane. Grainne did a couple of turns and then I took over. Not very neat, but not totally bad either. The we went a little North and found some tanks laying in a field. Grainne circled it once and then I tried to circle it twice. The circling is easy, keeping a constant radius on the circle is the hard bit. You can checkout the GPS ground track to see how I did. Then a climb back up and back home to RHV. I did the radio, no problems this time. We started descending at the right rate and the right time and actually made a pretty good landing just as the sun was falling below the horizon. I felt that I was mostly in control with Grainne just helping a little bit. As we pulled off the runway the tower cleared us to taxi back to the parking area.
This was a nice easy flight. Plenty of time to enjoy the view and just enjoy flying without stressing out doing stalls or instrument work. The kind of flight that reminds you how much fun this can be and why you doing all the hard work. I think you need one of these flights every so often. Its also amazing how quickly you get better at things. Only yesterday I was swerving all over the runway during take off with way too much right rudder. Today it was almost passable. Yesterday we had to do a go-around on the landing, today was great. This is the third day in a row that I have flown and it really helps you see the progress you make. Looking forward to Thursday night.
Another beautiful California day, A 10am flight so it wasn’t too hot yet and not a whisper of wind stirring the wind-sock. Blue sky, not a cloud in sight. Yes, its an expensive place to live. Yes, the traffic sucks. But days like this more than make up for it all. I was supposed to fly N74754D, but it was down for maintenance so I was given N9552A which is a 1999 Cessna 172, almost new (20 years younger than 54D). Grainne turned up right on time and we went to pre-flight the plane. Other than fact that the new Skyhawk (i.e. Cessna 172) has 11 fuel drains, each one of which has to be checked, the pre-flight is much the same. The oil is much easier to check, you don‘t need to reach the top of the engine. Yesterday, I burnt my fingers on the dip stick on N739YE, the engine was hot and you have to do a gymnastic exercise to check the oil. Lovely leather seats in the cockpit. The instrument panel had a different layout from the older planes, but all the familiar gauges were there. If I say so myself, I did a great job of taxiing today. Grainne never had to help me and I did the radio talking to Ground Control and the Tower. We were told to “hold in position on 31L”, I got the plane stopped right on the center line. Then we were cleared for take off and we were off. We did our usual downwind departure and climbed to 5000’ which we reached just Northwest of Anderson Reservoir. First up was power-off & power-on stall practice. Grainne had given me a written procedure to follow an thankfully, I remembered it. First, clearing turns 90 degrees left, 90 degrees right to make sure the sky was free of planes. Then the maneuvering checklist, fuel tanks on both, mixture full rich, landing light on, engine on 2200RPM, speed less than Va (95knots), oil pressure & temp in the green, emergency landing spot picked out (South County). Power-off stalls are what can happen as you come into land, did a couple of them and they went great. I didn’t lose much altitude, though I gained a bit of altitude getting setup for the first one. Then my least favorite, power-on stalls – these are a roller coaster ride. I did three, the first and last were reasonable, though both times I ended up about 30 degrees off my original heading. The second one however was really bad. Once the plane stalls there really is no control over the wings, the plane can roll one way of the other. This time it rolled a long way left and you start to feel as if the plane will go into a spin (a very bad thing). We recovered, but ended up pointing in a completely different direction (at least 120 degrees off heading), plus I got a fright when the wing just seemed to want to head for the ground. Grainne said that even a little imbalance between the wings when you stall can cause one wing to stall more than the other causing it to drop (the other wing still has some lift I guess). Either way, its all about getting the correct rudder control as the plane stalls and then recovering quickly. This is really practice for a sudden emergency, if you do this on take-off you are seriously close to the ground and you don’t have a couple of hundred feet to recover. I guess I will practice these until the recovery becomes almost automatic, I hope the fear factor subsides with time as well. We then did some more forward slip practice. This was not as easy as the first time. I did not keep the nose down and the plane proved impossible to keep going in a straight line. One thing we both noticed was how much more sensitive the rudder was in this plane compared to the older planes. I had to think far more about rudder control than before, and a couple of times I way over compensated with right rudder. Finally, I got the forward slip working, by mostly keeping the nose down where it was supposed to be. Then we did some more simulated instruments with the foggles. It went well, turns, climbs and climbing turns at constant speed – no problems. Back over UTC we did a couple of 360 descending turns to get to a lower altitude before beginning our approach to Reid Hillview. I did the radio again, but stumbled on the call sign a bit when I repeated the landing instructions back to the tower. He got confused and decided we were “Trinidad 532A”, instead of “Cessna 552A”. We didn’t figure he was talking to us when he used the Trinidad call sign. Finally, he just said “will the plane 5 miles Southeast state their call sign”, so I did. We were cleared to land on 31L and everything was going fine except we were again too high and too fast coming in. We did another go-around the left traffic pattern. The turn onto final was good, but we were again a little high, this time however we got down if a little steeply. I swerved a bit on landing (over control of the right rudder again), but generally handled the taxiing ok including pissing of ground control by asking to repeat the instructions again (he sounded pissed to me). This time I even turned the plane in front of the parking space by myself for the first time.
One thing I’m starting to notice is that Grainne is giving me less and less step by step instructions (I’m sure this is intentional). She simply tells me the maneuver or expects me to know what to do (like actually take off when you get the clearance). This forces me to take more control or ownership of the situation. When you are a little scared or nervous about you abilities its very tempting to “let the expert take over”, but this is not really learning. Eventually, you’ve got to do this yourself so the sooner you start the sooner the confidence that you can do it will build. Feeling good about flying again after the weekend , ready to do it again. My next lesson is scheduled for Thursday night.
Another hot and sunny California day. It was about 30C and a little hazy, a “spare the air day” in the Bay Area. Winds were variable 6knots. We started by reviewing my progress on the CPC classes and updating the database with my last flight. Then it was out to the plane where I did the standard pre-flight check, everything looked good. Grainne had being coaching me on the radio calls and I made my first call (that worked) to Reid Hillview Ground to request permission to taxi, “Reid Hillview Ground, Cessna 739YE, at Discovery, ready to taxi , downwind departure, with alpha”. I messed up when I repeated the instructions back, I said “39L” for the runway when it is actually 31L, I guess I confused it with the 39 in the aircraft call-sign. I completed the start-up checklist and nervously eased the plane out of its parking space. This time I used some left brakes and the plane turned more or less correctly. No problems taxing in a straight line. And I turned into the run-up area reasonably well. During the run-up the engine tachometer bounced around a lot, jumping a couple of hundred RPM up and down. The check of the magneto’s was difficult, but Grainne got the tachometer to settle down and we completed the check. The throttle would not really pull all the way back to idle, it wanted to pull back in about 1/8” after you pulled it out. This meant that the RPM was high for idle (about 1000rmp rather than 750). I was not really happy about the way it was behaving, but Grainne believed that plane was safe to fly. The engine itself sounded fine, it was only the tachometer and the throttle that seemed to be the problem. Either way, I taxied over to the hold line for runway 31R. I was about the radio the tower for take-off clearance when he told us to make an expedited departure (just takeoff right now). Grainne took over and taxied us onto 31L (I would have been much slower) and we took off. No problems, climbed to 500’ , turned left, left again before freeway 101 and flew the downwind leg. We climbed up to 5000’ and leveled off. Grainne had brought along a pair of “foggles”. These are like clear plastic wrap around sunglasses with the top half gray and opaque. When you put the on you can see the instruments but not outside the plane, except for a little peripheral vision on the left side. They are used to simulate what it would be like if you mistakenly flew into a cloud or otherwise got into “non-visual” flying conditions. Grainne took over the plane and I put on the foggles. Then it was my first try at instrument flying. Grainne, just told me to keep constant airspeed and make various turns different headings. We did a 180 degree turn (to get out of the “cloud”), flew for a bit, did a couple of 90 degree turns, then climbed to 6000” doing a couple of turns on the way. None of this was as hard as I had believed it would be. I guess I’m somewhat used to looking at the instruments on FS2002 and as an Engineer I’m genetically inclined to believe gauges are telling me the truth. I didn’t experience any of the disorientation I was expecting when your body tells you one thing and the instruments tell you another. The only thing is to keep scanning all the instruments, rather than just fixing on one (an easy trap to fall into). Off came the foggles and we flew Southwest towards South County Airport to practice some pattern flying. I made the radio call to ask for a traffic advisory, but there was no answer. We decided to over-fly the airport and check the wind-sock. At this point two other planes also started calling and asking for a traffic advisory and things started to get real busy on the radio. Basically there were two other planes making for South County as the same time as us and we couldn’t see either of them. Grainne, took over the flying and we circled over the airport. I could see the windsock, but I couldn’t workout what wind direction that translated into. Grainne just asked me to tell here the right runway to us. This was easy, as there is just one so you only need to decide from what direction to land on it – and that is into whatever direction the wind is mostly coming from., the answer was runway 32. We started flying North away from the airport to setup for a 45 degree entry into a right traffic pattern. It was then that we saw the one of the two planes. He was flying Northeast and was more or less straight ahead of us. Grainne told him we would “follow him in” so we did a wide circle to the left that brought us onto a heading for the 45 degree pattern entry and behind that first plane. Grainne gave me back the plane and I flew onto the downwind leg, started descending abeam the numbers, turned onto the base leg and then went too far or turned too wide to get lined up with the runway on final. With all the planes in the air, the radio babble and the wind which had picked up a bit we were too high, too fast and offline. We decided to do a “go around” and set full power. I guess I didn’t give nearly enough right rudder when we applied the power because we veered off to the left quite badly as we climbed out. Having had enough of South County we headed North to practice some gliding on the way home. We never did see the third plane. Grainne had me flying above a valley just a little North of the UTC buildings when she pulled the engine to idle and asked me what I should do. There is an sequence called ABC for engine failure, its Airspeed, Best field and Cockpit. First, set the airspeed to the best glide speed for the plane, about 65 knots (a little less is the plane is not fully loaded). Then look for someplace to land. I was trying to work out if we could glide to Reid Hillview or South County (by trying to calculate the glide distance from our altitude of 4000’. At this point Grainne, put here hand over the altimeter and told me to just look outside for a spot to land. Remember, I said we were flying into a valley, so it was just mountains ahead and on both sides. However, as Grainne pointed out there was a nice flat plowed field right in from of us that I had not noticed, it would not be a nice landing but you would probably walk away from it. A good example of thinking too hard, and not looking for the obvious right under your nose (literally). I bet Grainne brings all her students into that valley for the same lesson. Then I radioed Reid Hillview Tower to tell them we were inbound to land and we headed back toward home. The straight in approach to 31L when without problem and I got lined up on the runway without problems. The landing was uneventful, taxied off 31L, across 31R and called Ground Control who told us to take the inner taxiway (a new one for me) to the parking space. All the taxi turns went well and I pretty much stayed on the yellow line. Grainne parked the plane.
All in all a good flight, other than the messed-up approach to South County. There were just too many things happening at the same time to keep concentration on all of them. I think, that as controlling the plane become more natural to me, my mind will have the bandwidth to focus on all the other stuff going on around the pattern. So I’m not too worried about it, it will just come with practice. I’m much happier about driving the plane on the ground and that was the real problem the last day. I think the radio work will be easy as well, I had a radio license in Ireland and used CB a lot when I was a teenager so I’m not mic-shy. Looking forward to flying tomorrow.
Tonight was not so much fun. I came away from the plane exhausted and stressed out. The weather was “clear” but very hazy. It was hot (30C) and windy 13 knots blowing about 30 degrees off the right side of the runway. Grainne had another student when I arrived so she sent me out to start the preflight check. No problems, the fuel tanks were full and everything looked ok. I was just finished the checklist when Grainne showed up. Got the plane started and listened to ATIS, then started to taxi. Right away I had problems again, now I can more or less go in a straight line but corners are a mess, I was pressing down hard on the rudder but the plane just didn’t want to turn. I’m doing something wrong but I’m not sure what. We taxied to the run-up area and Grainne took care of turning the plane into the wind because of the problems I was having. I was nervous and my leg muscles decided to shake making it hard to hold the nose wheel steady. I had wanted to correctly practice the control surface setting for the crosswind conditions, but in the event I was way to busy just driving the plane in the required direction. I got us onto the 30R and took off. The climb was really bumpy because of the strong headwind. There was another plane that took off beside us on 30R. As we reached about 500’ Grainne grabbed the yoke and made a right turn. She may have been worried that I was going to turn left into the other planes path, because we have always made a left turn after takeoff up to now. We turned downwind and headed Southeast, climbing to 5000’ with a few S-turns to look for traffic. Near South County Airport ee did some clearing turns (90 degrees one way then 90 degrees the other) to check the area for traffic and started practicing stalls. First came power-off stalls which are relatively benign. The engine is at idle power, you are flying very slowly (45 knots or so) and you just pull back on the yoke. The plane pitches up, looses airspeed and stalls, then gently the nose falls down, you gain some airspeed and just pull the nose back to level flight. This was easy stuff. The we started the power-on stalls. For these you slow the plane down to about 60 knots. Apply full engine power and just pull the nose up and up and up until you stall. Grainne showed me one first and it was scary. If like me you are a seasoned traveler used to many hours on commercial flights then you kind of forget that planes do anything other than fly nice and smooth with a little turbulence now and then to keep things interesting. Well today I learned that they do a great impression of a roller coaster. With full power the plane just pulled way up then when it stalled its nose dropped way down and my stomach headed for my mouth. I got a real fright. Then it was my turn to try it. First we tried a few without full power and boy it just feels like the plane falls out from under you. It also has an alarming tendency to dive to the left or right. The first stall I tried dipped a long way right (Grainne said I must have started it with the ailerons ). We ended you on a heading almost 90 degrees from the one we started on once I got leveled out. Controlling the rudder is really important because its the only way you have to keep the plane going in the right direction. I tried three stalls without full power and then a couple with full power. By the last one I was recovering fairly well. But it feels real unnatural to put the plane into the stall. The we headed for Hollister Airport to practice flying the pattern. The FBO (Fixed Base Operator – just some guy who works at the airport) gave us an advisory on what runway to use (24). Its really hard to actually see the numbers painted on the runways and I had a hard time making sure I knew which runway was 24. We were at about 4000’ after the stalls so we spiraled down with three 360 degree turns to come in on a 45 degree entry to the downwind leg of the pattern. You enter the pattern at 1000” above ground level, fly parallel to the runway your going to land on. Then make a 90 degree left turn onto the base leg and shortly thereafter another onto the final leg which has you lined up with the runway. This worked great. I asked Grainne were we going to land and she said she wasn’t sure, just keep flying the approach. In the end we made a touch and go landing (you just touch the wheels on the runway and then take off again) with Grainne working the power and me driving the rest of the plane. It went well. Then it was back up to 4000’ and we headed back towards Reid Hillview. We did some climbing turns on the way up and then I did some rudder practice to try and get a feel for the adverse yaw you experience when banking into a turn. It was so hazy we really couldn’t see far, this gave me a chance to check the GPS receiver I had brought along for the trip. It was a Christmas present from my brother and I hope that flying will finally be something useful I can do with it. I spent about 3 hours last night getting the FAA aviation database loaded into it. It worked great, I just set RHV as the “goto” point and it pointed up in exactly the right direction. About 5 miles from the airport Grainne decided that it was time for my debut on the radio. She told me what to say: “Reid Hillview tower, Cessna N4754D at UTC, 4000‘, to land, with Oscar”. I said it perfectly (and remembered to press the push to talk button). No reply from the tower and Grainne said she hadn’t heard me over the intercom (I didn’t hear my voice on the intercom either). So I tried again, same result. So Grainne made the call and they heard us. Cleared to land on 31L straight in. Go figure, my first time to talk to Air Traffic Control and the radio doesn’t work. We started our descent and then Grainne showed me something called forward slipping. Basically you bank the plane one way and apply full rudder the other. Amazingly the plane flies in a straight line but descends really quickly. I tried it and it worked just fine, you just have to be careful coming out of the slip to coordinate the runner and ailerons back to their more normal positions. Again we landed with Grainne tweaking the power while I steered. It was really bumpy close to the ground. We landed fairly well and I somehow managed to steer us more or less off the runway. It was then that we had the fire in the cockpit. Well not really a fire, just a puff of smoke, an electrical insulation burning smell and one of the radios died. We quickly switched everything else off, there wasn’t any more smoke but the second radio didn’t seem to be working either (it transmitted a carrier but no voice so we couldn’t talk to ground control). We just kind of gingerly taxied back to our parking spot trying to make the radio work. I really glad that it decided to break when we were on the ground rather than trying to get setup to land. We completed the final checklists and then filled out the squawk sheet (which is just a description of what went wrong with the plane).
With my initial nervousness and problem steering on the taxiway, the sudden right turn on take-off, the surprise of the power-on stalls, and then the electrics frying it was a stressful lesson. I was exhausted and not really in a good mood afterwards. A big contrast to the elation I felt on the last flight. I hope the next lesson on Saturday goes better.
Wow! What a great flight. A beautiful sunny day, not a cloud in the sky, light breeze out of the North as usual. I left work at 5pm for the drive down to Reid-Hillview, the traffic sucked. I got to the airport about 5:40pm and stopped at the Airport Shoppe (stupid name) and purchased a Lightspeed QFR Solo headset for $145 (is anyone adding the dollars up, I’m scared to). I spent a little time online and this headset seemed to be the best value – the lightest, quietest passive headset available. Passive means its doesn’t need batteries to drive fancy noise reduction electronics, the review I read said that this headset was as good as some of the medium priced NR headsets for a lot less money. I was sold anyway. I really am starting to look the part, got my headset in its bag along with my new log book and my medical cert. Next thing I need is the big f**k off watch I believe pilots are required to have. I read a joke somewhere online “What do you get if you cross a pilot with a monkey? A monkey with a big watch”.
I met Grainne just before 6pm and we got the computer setup to read in my floppy disk from the CPC kit. She went through the checklists for the first two flights I’ve done and we made sure we had covered everything we were supposed to do (actually only missed gliding which we’ll do today). Then it was out to the airplane and I started the preflight checks. Only bumped my head once today (I had made a habit of checking the strength of the wings with my head the last time). Grainne had me taxi down Zulu taxiway (which is the one closest to the plane parking spaces) and wonder of wonders I did a pretty good job. Got the plane turned into the wind and did the run-up checklist, then taxied over to the hold area in front of runway 30R. Again watched two Cessna’s land together . Grainne did all the radio work. Then out onto runway 30L and takeoff – all on my own. The plane wavered around a bit as we took off, but not the disaster I was expecting. Did a climbing turn to the left and then another to fly the downwind leg of the pattern (notice the pilot lingo creeping in) and a nice steady climb up to 5000’ heading more or less South to the training area. Grainne had me practice some easy turns on the way up to check for traffic. The air was unbelievably clear – we could see high mountains so far South that neither of new what they were and all the way over to the Monterey Peninsula. The marine layer fog was spread out like a gray carpet all the way from Monterey to the nearest hills where it was just spilling over the top. There was a light haze low down over San Jose which I guess is mostly pollution – though I never noticed it when I was on the ground. We started off with a couple of 360 turns, this time I was a lot less intimidated by the rudder (having got an understanding of what it was supposed to do in the ground classes). The plane turned nicely just like it was supposed to without much adverse yaw (the nose going the wrong way at the start of a turn). Then we tried some gliding – just reduce the power to idle and let the plane glide down while keeping the nose at a pitch to maintain the best glide speed (65 knots for the C172). We practiced some slow flying and then a simulated “Go-Around”. This is when you are descending to land and a dog runs out on the runway and you have to quickly change to a climb to go around and try to land again. This went pretty well. Then some more slow flying just to get the feel of the plane at that speed – it gets really sluggish and wants to bounce around. I even got to make the stall warning sound which is easy at the slow speed (my first stall – I’m all misty eyed). At this stage it became the crowded skies. I think we saw at least four other planes around us over the next 10minutes, two of which I spotted before Grainne. Then we turned North for RHV. The haze was very thick over the airport but Lake Cunningham is still pretty easy to pick out even when you can’t see the airport. Started descending a few miles out and got lined up for a straight in approach to 30L. The next call from the tower changed that to 30R without explanation. We were a little high (again) and I was still flying the airplane. I have a tendency to “dive to the ground” and she had to keep reminding me to keep the nose up. We were just passed Eastridge Mall and I expected Grainne to take over at some point, she didn’t. She told me to level off and bump we were down (I think she helped a little at the very end). My first landing was a great surprise to me – I had actually done just about everything on my own and we got down. The landing was a little hard but still reasonable. I think if she had told me I was going to land I would have been much more nervous. I managed to steer down the runway and off onto the taxiway then do the post-landing checklist and actually taxi back to the parking space. This flight really boosted my confidence. I was a little depressed after the last flight because my control of the plane was poor, I think this was mainly due to not understanding the rudder and exactly how to use the ailerons to make turns. This flight was much better. Grainne is off this weekend so my next lesson is Wednesday next week.