Monday, December 13, 2010

Adventures in Aviation, Part Sept

My third official flying lesson happened two weekends ago. Why are you only hearing about it now? A black hole opened up in my little corner of the Valley last week and swallowed my sanity. Luckily, all is intact and my fingers are back on the keyboard.

The weekend of my third lesson contained much more flying than the actual lesson part. I was originally scheduled to fly on Saturday, so I spent the morning dealing with those unintended consequences aka reading. I was going to be a prepared student for a change!

In the meantime, Wes was out doing some flying of his own. The weather was fickle that weekend, and breezy blue skies turned into wicked turbulence on his flight up to Mammoth, which meant that he wasn’t coming home until it cleared up. So there I am, sitting on the couch, reading about stalls and the four forces of flight, hearing about a “scary, I’m never going to fly like that again” account from my Lovies, feeling the pressure of having to get to the airport by myself (I’ve already mentioned my dependency issues), hoping that my Lovies makes it back before dark and bam!, my instructor cancels on me. He needs to reschedule for tomorrow. I was relieved, but annoyed. I don’t like delaying the inevitable, especially when my thoughts are totally consumed with flying. But Sunday it was.

Sunday’s weather was perfect for flying. It was cool and cloudy. That plane turns into a flying oven when it’s hot out. You just have to sit there, your feet melting into the rudder pedals, try to keep your sweaty hands dry and fly the thing. It’s not the most pleasurable experience, but we didn’t have to deal with that on Sunday. The main thing we had to deal with on Sunday was fuel.

During the pre-flight, I removed the gas caps to refuel the plane, which is procedure, but I put the gas cap on the ground FACE DOWN. Fuel related incident #1. Mr. Instructor reminded me that any water or particles in the gas tanks will inhibit the plane’s operation and cause problems. So if I would please look at the gas cap I put on the ground FACE DOWN and realize that I was getting it dirty. Dirt, which in turn, would end up in the gas tank when I screwed the cap back on. I like to make mistakes in the beginning of my lessons. Since I’m guaranteed to make mistakes while we’re flying, a mishap before we even get in the plane indicates consistency, and I like to be consistent.

Off we went, buzzing around Camarillo and then over to Newbury Park. The air always seems calmer east of the airport, so that’s where you’ll find us practicing the most. We dove right into the day’s curriculum: stalls. My favorite. For a power-off stall, the procedure goes something like this: Mr. Instructor picks an altitude and a heading. I maintain the altitude and the heading while wheeling the power back. I give the plane a notch of flaps to maintain lift and point my noise up to slow the airspeed down. Then it’s less power, more flaps, less power, more flaps, and constant right rudder, until the plane can no longer maintain lift and it stalls. For recovery, you need to point your noise down to get your airspeed back alive, push the power all the way in, confirm that you have positive rate of climb and then take the flaps out a notch at a time. Once you’re climbing back to your altitude you can reduce the power. At least I think that’s how a power-off stall and recovery are done. I’ve only had four lessons; I wouldn’t trust me just yet.

Power-on stalls are similar in the sense that you stall the wing (the wing no longer produces lift; aka your ass is in trouble), but the conditions and recovery are very different. To practice a power-on stall, you fly at full power and then pull the stick back so the wings exceed their critical angle of attack. The plane will stall, and to recover, you will need to lower the noise just enough to see your vertical speed increase (you’re going up, not down) then bring the nose back up to continue climbing. At least I think that’s how a power-on stall and recovery are done. Again, I wouldn’t trust me just yet.

I’m sure you’re pretty bored by now (I wasn’t having the time of my life either), but around the one hour mark of our lesson Mr. Instructor notices that the fuel pressure is in the red. Fuel related incident #2. Any gauge that’s in the red is a bad sign. I, however, thought the fuel pressure gauge was the oil pressure gauge, so I was extra excited.

Mr. I: Hmm, that’s not good. The fuel pressure’s really high. Have you noticed that before?
Me: No. That’s bad isn’t it? We should land right?
Mr. I: Ya, it’s not good but it’s not that bad. It’s a little unusual.
Me: We should land right?
Mr. I: I wouldn’t be too concerned. There’s probably an electronic glitch or something, but it’s not my plane so I don’t want anything bad to happen if we keep flying.
Me: We should land right?
Mr. I: Ya, let’s head back to the airport.

I was having one of those moments where I was focusing on how hard the flying was and how much easier not flying would be, forgetting that I’m going to have to do lots more flying until it’s no longer hard (or scary). When we were back on the ground and I was only able to log 0.7 hours in my logbook I realized this. Then we spent the afternoon fixing the plane I broke!

Well Wes fixed it. I took pictures of the dogs and sky; the sky which I longed to be back flying through.

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