Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adventures in Aviation, Part X … Continued

I don’t remember what my excuse was for Saturday… oh wait! Yes I do! During my sixth flying lesson, Mr. Instructor informed me that we were nearing the point where we’d practiced everything in the first stage of my flight training, and that during the next lesson we would sit down and go over all my book learning. Remember those unintended consequences I mentioned a couple months back? The reading I’m supposed to do alongside my actual in-the-aircraft training? Don’t remember? Ya, me neither. I haven’t been the best student lately, and anticipating that Mr. Instructor would want to go over all the material I haven’t been reading, I formulated an excuse on my way to the airport. It went something like this: “I had a really tough week at work (true story), and I just haven’t been in the mindset to focus on the material (I’m stretching it a bit now), and I want to give the material my full attention since I think it’s such an important part of my learning process (oh, yes. I’m shameless). Actually, I do think the reading is important. Much in the same way I think kale is a key ingredient to a healthy diet. It’s just hard to choke down every now and then.

Turns out I didn’t need to spend my energy creating an excuse for why I wasn’t caught up on the reading. Mr. I straight up forgot about our recap session! As soon as I got to the airport it was get in the plane and off we go. Mr. I doesn’t like to waste time. Mr. I likes to get in the air and torture me with endless stall practice. Have I mentioned my dislike of stalls? Oh, right, I won’t remind you again.

Most of the lesson was spent doing “upper air work”. We did stalls, steep turns, slow flight and high altitude descents. This was the second time I had done steep turns, which basically go like this:
Pick an altitude and stick with it, let’s say 4500 feet, then pick a point on the compass to be your starting point, say 270 degrees (west). Have your turn/G force/I’m-not-really-sure-what-it’s called indicator visible so you can make sure you’re maintaining a 60 degree bank, which imposes a 2G load on the aircraft (you feel twice as heavy). Then start your 60 degree bank to the left, go all the way around (a full 360 degree turn), and as you reach the point you picked on the compass (270 degrees), turn the 60 bank in the opposite direction and do another full 360 degree turn until you come back around then level out at you’re starting point (270 degrees). The goal is to keep your turns at a constant degree bank and maintain your altitude within 100 feet.

The little red plane I practice in turns on a dime, so by the time my brain starts working after I start a turn, I have to hurry up and turn in the other direction. Monitor my altitude? When am I supposed to do that? At the 1 second mark when I’ve made the first complete turn, or at the 2 second mark when the maneuver’s complete? There’s not a lot of time in there for me to be thinking about silly things like altitude. Most of the time I’m thinking: “Wow this is so weird! The view is so different when you’re perpendicular to the ground! Crazy!” Luckily, I’ve managed to convince Mr. I that I know what I’m doing, and we only practice one set of steep turns before moving on. And if you do too many sets, all the G force action is liable to make you barf. So I’ve heard.

The rest of the lesson was spent flying in the pattern and practicing landings, two of my favorite things. I don’t think I’ve really mentioned it, but one of the most challenging parts of flying is learning to use the radios to communicate. Radio communication is essential if you are flying in highly trafficked areas or if you want to depart or land at an airport (it’s essential for many other reasons, but those are the top ones). You’d think it’d be easy, but aviation language is a very different language.

“Camarillo ground, light sport niner-one-niner-echo at the east end, with information bravo. We would like taxi for a northwest departure”.
“Light sport niner-one-niner-echo. Follow the duchess and taxi via golf alpha to 26”.
“We will follow the duchess, taxi via golf alpha to 26, niner-one-niner-echo”.

Imagine trying to comprehend and respond to calls like that while you’re trying to fly a plane you don’t really know how to fly. It gets stressful. Which is why while we were flying the pattern over Oxnard and I heard a call associated with niner-one-niner-echo (the plane I fly), I responded with “approved for landing, niner-one-niner-echo”. That would have been right, except that the tower gave me instructions to land on a heli pad. Airplanes don’t land too well on heli pads. But look at me! I was going to do it no problem! It only took both the tower and Mr. I a second before realizing the mistake and correcting it.

To be honest, I wasn’t going follow the tower’s instructions and land on the heli pad, because I didn’t even hear what they said. I was just going to disregard it and go about my pattern work/landing as usual, or until Mr. I told me different. It’s stressful ok! I can either listen to the tower man’s instructions or fly the damn plane, and I choose fly the damn plane! Anyways, Mr. I listens to the tower and I know he's got my back.

I think the highlight of my seventh flying lesson would have to be the perfect landing I perfectly screwed up. We were coming into landing at Oxnard. Everything’s looking good. My airspeed is about 70, right where I want it. I’ve got one notch of flaps in. I’m lining up with the runway. Mr. I isn’t touching the controls, he’s just telling me to aim for the numbers, standard. I’m coming in… over the runway now… just crossing the numbers… leveling it off… letting it settle into ground effect… pull back a little… and plop, the wheels touch the runway. It was awesome. Mr. Instructor and I were equally shocked how well I did, but then the excitement got the best of me. We weren’t on the runway for more than 10 seconds before I’m jamming the power all way in and taking off again. Except I forgot to “clean up” and take out the flaps I put in for landing. Flaps are good for landing, not for takeoff. Whoops! So my perfect landing got screwed up by the imperfect pilot.

That marks the end of my seventh flying lesson. I now have one whole page of my logbook filled out and 11.5 hours of instruction! Check it out!

There may have been some crazy talk at the end of my lesson about how I’m progressing very quickly and might be coming up on the solo preparation material, but I’m pretty sure I heard Mr. Instructor incorrectly. He probably said something more like: “I am only encouraging you so you keep booking me for flight instruction, cause I’m riding solo now and I needs to get me some cash so I can take out a lady for Valentine’s Day.”

That’s probably where I got confused.

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