Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gonna land, gonna land, gonna land

I got to go flying again today. My CFI had encouraged me after our last flight to go up again sooner than at a two-week interval because, as he put it, "learning to land is a critical phase in flying." We took an hour and stayed in the traffic pattern around KGIF, doing a total of eight patterns and landings. I noticed a definite improvement in how I performed this time. Part of it is probably being able to go so close to another lesson; part of it is probably just practice.

Bryan told me that my traffic patterns today were almost perfect: nice turns for the most part, a good distance from the field, good altitude control. He mentioned that I need to watch my airspeed while turning base-to-final, and for some reason today I did struggle with being either too fast or too slow during the turns from downwind-base and base-final. Bryan illustrated this by talking me through one of my approaches:

"The critical thing is not to get too slow on your turn to final. You're making me nervous with those steep turns in to final and you're losing airspeed. If we stall here there's no time to recover. So we're not going to make that mistake any more. See how your airspeed is dropping when you turn in? You need to either add power or drop the nose to gain airspeed." I mulled his words over as we thumped into the ground on another practice landing and revved up for a takeoff.

On the next traffic pattern, I changed my viewpoint. I have spent a lot of time looking down the extended centerline of the airplane, but the issue with that is that the airspeed indicator is on the upper-left portion of the dashboard. So instead of looking down the extended centerline, I shifted my eyes to the corner of the windscreen closest to the airspeed indicator. I found that it helped me monitor my turns, and the fact that such a small shift in vision kept my airspeed indicator in view made an enormous difference. On the last few approaches, I made that change and maintained airspeed as well as flying a better traffic pattern.

The landings themselves are still a little rough. I am having trouble with the "flare" before touchdown where you pull the nose into the air and let the back wheels settle onto the pavement first. I tend to flare too soon, and then "balloon" up into the air before floating back down. The danger is that during a "balloon" you will lose airspeed, and if you have climbed a few feet you could end up crossing the line from "landing" to "crash." Not likely to be lethal, but very likely to be embarrassing and expensive.

The key is to constantly modify your flare. When Bryan flares, he tends to move the yoke quite a bit, making constant minute adjustments to the pitch. When I flare, I tend to make grosser, more outsized movements, which are less likely to lead to a smooth landing. I improved some today, and Bryan tells me it's "practice makes perfect." Landing is scientific, but it's an artsy science, and it just takes repetition to "grease" the landings.

In summary: I feel good about today. My traffic patterns were good, my ground handling was the best yet, and the preflight/runup/takeoff have been very smooth. I did forget to check the fuel selector, but that is an oversight that I can correct next time and never miss again. The landings are still a bit rough, but they are less rough than in the past, and getting better every time. It just takes practice. Lucky for me, I love to practice. I can't wait to go again.

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