Saturday, February 20, 2010

Eight Patterns, Eight Landings

A photo I took today at the airport. I call it "Freedom Through the Fence" because I am a dork.

2/20/2010 C-150 N5307Q GIF-GIF
Traffic Patterns and normal landing practice
8 landings 1.5 hours
Grand Total: 21 hours

Today was an awesome day to fly. For starters, the weather was perfect: clear skies, no wind, no clouds, nice mellow temperature. It was without a doubt the most perfect flying day I could have asked for.

Despite this perfect weather, the traffic pattern at the airport was less busy than I had expected. With perfect weather on a Saturday afternoon in Florida, I'd expect tons of traffic aloft, but for the first 45 minutes or so in the air it seemed like it was just me and my instructor. A few planes joined us in the traffic pattern later on in the afternoon, but by and large our company in the air was courteous and not hurried--which is good as our little Cessna 150 has about one horsepower and putts through the traffic pattern at a fairly laid-back pace.

There was some drama on the radio, however. A flight student on a solo had gotten lost and was asking for directions. My instructor suggested he try to use a VOR* signal to triangulate his position, and the student's instructor came on the radio and suggested he try some orienteering, but the student saw some random field and opted to just land the flight and figure out where he was from the ground. Also of note, another aircraft announced that they had experienced engine failure and would be landing on the inactive runway, but fortunately it was just an engine-out drill. No actual emergency--phew!

We spent the day focusing on traffic patterns and on landings. The concept of the day was to grasp was the "Stabilized Approach," which is to say that while approaching for landing the view from the cockpit should be of the runway growing larger but not moving. A lot of pitch or yaw or roll to correct should not be necessary if one's approach is solid. On my first few patterns of the day, my approach was a touch sloppy and the landings were definitely rough. Bryan coached me through the landing: the objective is to float the airplane and not quite let it land until it's niiiiice and easy. There needs to be back pressure on the yoke to prevent the airplane from touching with the nosewheel first. Keeping the pressure on the yoke also prevents the nosewheel from mushing around and making it hard to steer.

Three problems popped up today. First, my instructor noticed that I wasn't paying enough attention to airspeed. This is a huge problem since losing your airspeed while maneuvering near the ground can cause an un-recoverable stall, which can then cause death. I wish to avoid death, and so after my instructor reminded me of the importance of airspeed I worked hard to maintain it. I think I was too throttle-shy at first, but as the day went on I grew more aggressive and learned what sort of maneuvers require additional power. My recent reading on the power curve makes a lot more sense after all that mucking around with the throttle today. I also focused on pitching for airspeed.

Problem two: I had a hard time steering after landing. Ten years of car driving kick in and I try to steer with the ailerons (the yoke) when it is instead necessary to steer with your feet, on the rudder pedals. I tried to focus on fixing that but my brain was full and so I will try to do better next time.

The final problem: when I am making my power and configuration changes at the end of the downwind leg, I have a tendency to steer the airplane to the right. It's not a huge deal, but Bryan mentioned it to me and I feel like I should work on neatening that up. After all, unintentional changes in attitude while changing configuration can become problematic.

After plenty of practice, with eight traffic patterns and seven touch-and-go's, my patterns were tighter, my landings were better, and I felt like I had made some progress and learned a lot. Bryan told me that my landings had gone from not good at all to a C+ grade, and I feel good about that. The objective is an eventual A+, so more practice is in order!

All in all, a productive day. An hour and a half more in the logbook, eight good traffic patterns, and three unassisted landings that went fairly well. In aviation, any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, but any landing that you can walk away from
and still use the plane is a great landing. In that light, I think that today was a great day indeed.

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