Learning to fly

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Flight #31
Sept 20, 1999, 7pm
(1.3 Dual) 46.5 total

Drizzly skies all day threatened to keep us on the ground, but by the time I got to the airport it was full of hazy blue. Not too much haze though, so we climbed into 75E and flew. But before we took off, Karen said that from now on every takeoff I made was to be either a soft field or short field. And every landing would be a soft or short field or simulated engine-out.

Our first landing was a shortfield and the nosewheel wobbled horribly like it was going to shake loose, so we taxied to the FBO and traded it in for 78T. Not my favorite plane anymore with that giant Johnson bar on the floor, but cleaner. I don't care for the way my view of the runway changes as I lower the bar on rollout, because it causes me to veer off the centerline as I do.

We stayed in the pattern for the most part. Need to keep that nose from touching down on the soft field landings. Nearly everything was good except for the one with a nosewheel first butterfly kiss on the asphalt. I just need to flare more aggressively. Then we left the pattern and Karen showed me where to practice my Turns Around A Point and S turns tomorrow. She’ll be busy with her CFII checkride and I’ll be under supervision of Randall or Darrell I guess. (Note: Darrell would later open his own flight school and, through no fault of his own, be killed giving an introductory ride in 2002. It made me a bit nervous to fly after hearing the news and realizing that no matter what your skill level might be, circumstances beyond your control can conspire to take your life in this endeavor.)

Heading back to the airport, we worked on a few simulated engine outs with slips to the runway. She likes them real aggressive and it seemed to me that most times we had more airspeed than we really needed when we crossed the runway threshold. Better too much than too little in a real emergency I guess. After it got dark, we turned on the runway lights and tried to get some night landings in, but the clouds were starting to close in. On one turn from base to final approach, the runway lights timed out and the entire airport disappeared into a black hole. Not a pretty thing to see at that particular stage of the pattern and time of night. I’ll have to remember to always click the mike at least a few times on final, so I don’t get caught with less time to react than I had today.

Flight #32
Sept 21, 1999, 7pm
(.8 Dual) 47.3 total

Dirty gray skies all day with a few claps of thunder for good measure. But there’s still plenty of ground school to be had, so I headed to the airport thinking that I was in for some book learning. As I pulled into the airport, there was a plane in the air on final nearly sideways and pitching up and down in 18 knot direct crosswinds. No way was Randall going to let me go up in that. Wrong. “Jeff’s pretty good on the rudders”, Karen says, “we can handle it.” So we hopped in 78T (which appears to be the plane I will take my checkride in) and backtaxied to runway 4.

With the windsock extending straight out showing the wind from north to south, we bounced into the air and roller coasted up to pattern altitude. Once we were there it smoothed out a little, but I had to crab at least 10 degrees out to parallel the runway. A combination base/final leg and we were looking out the side windows at the runway. Oy. Keep the power in and stay a little high for insurance. Try to keep it level with minimal input and stay active on the rudders over the runway. Got a “Not bad” for the first landing. Turns out that the first, would be the best.

No touch and go’s in this wind, so we taxied around for another takeoff. A roller coaster again up to 2,000’. But this time I misjudged badly and got blown very wide on final, although not so bad I couldn’t get back in a reasonable amount of time. But the wind decided to really play with us right over the runway. Fortunately I was able to keep it lined up straight, but landed on one wheel. Not terrible, but it caused a bit of veering left on rollout.

The next landing was the worst. A real BIG airpocket on final actually caused an involuntary “whoo” (OK, it was nearly a yell) to come from me. That was a first. Then just above the runway, as we were about to touchdown, a BIG gust kicked us sideways A LOT. Karen was on the rudders too and we both kicked in right rudder to the floorboards but it still wasn’t enough to line us up straight. In an even, but urgent tone, Karen called for me to add a touch more power to keep us from touching down sideways at that point and I did. Maybe a couple of RPM too much, but it worked and we got it down in one piece. Our rollout took up 95% of the runway that was left. Not intimidated one bit, she let me taxi back for one more lap. It wasn't as bad this time, but I really had to work overtime on the rudders to keep it lined up.

Flight #33
Sept 25, 1999, 2pm
(2.3 Solo) 49.6 total

Blue skies without a cloud in sight and temps in the low 80s. No breeze to speak of, just a great day for a cross-country. I was scheduled to practice maneuvers solo today, but it was so pretty that I asked if I could head over to Toccoa for some navigation practice. I haven’t made a cross-country in 78T, so I thought it would be good to do it at least once before the checkride. I got out the Operating Manual to copy down the V-speeds for 78T to study later and as I was, Karen came by and got her headset from the passenger side.

I preflighted and then headed out to runway 22 for takeoff. Just as I lifted off the runway with a soft field takeoff, a metal clanking began that sounded like it was right over my head. From the location I thought it was coming from, it sounded like I had left the gas cap loose when I checked the fuel level and since it was on a chain, I thought that somehow it had to be blowing around and hitting the top of the wing. I looked back to see if fuel was sucking out and blowing in my wake, but it seemed clear. I checked all of the instruments and everything seemed OK, but I sure didn’t want to fly for 65 miles listening to that noise.

So I stayed in the pattern, set it down without any problem and taxied back to the flight school. As I shut it down, Karen came over suspecting that something was wrong. I got out and we checked the gas caps and they were in place and tight. A check of the flaps and still nothing. A walk around to the passenger side and voila’, the seatbelt strap with the metal end was hanging out of the closed passenger side door. We put it back in and I took off for Toccoa once again.

This trip I had my Garmin 12 GPS with me to see how well it would work. At $200.00, it was originally designed for hikers and boaters, but Avshop was selling it for aviation purposes. No built-in database, which meant entering airport positions in by hand, but great insurance for the price. It worked like a champ, showing 94 mph outbound and 114 mph coming home.

I had a bit of a problem holding altitude steady today for some reason. It seemed like I was always 100’ low or high. When I arrived over the Foothills VOR and called for a traffic advisory at Toccoa, Anniston Radio called and let me know I was still on 47A freq. Wonderful, you idiot. Switch freqs and still no response. Good grief, what have I done? Broke it? With my head on a swivel, I entered midfield downwind for runway 2 and saw a plane ahead of me just turning base. God, who else is here that I haven’t seen?

Later, when I got in for the return trip and checked my radio settings, I found the cause of my dilemma. I had the frequencies tuned for Cherokee and Macon Radio. When I mashed the button to switch over, it was to Macon Radio, not the Toccoa freq. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this flight, so I learned something. Anyway, the flight home was fairly uneventful, just more work than usual at holding altitude. When my GPS told me I was 11 miles out, I called for pattern and traffic (on the right freq) at Cherokee. They had switched to runway 4 by now and I entered upwind. A piece of cake landing and home safe again.

Flights #34 & 35
Sept 26, 1999, 10am
(.4 Solo, 3.2 Dual) 53.2 total

Blue cloudless skies with a bit of haze. I climbed into 78T and flew the pattern a few times doing soft and short landings and takeoffs. After a bit, Karen was waiting at the hold line for me and we left the pattern to practice slow flight, constant altitude turns and short field/soft field and a couple of simulated engine failures. Not too bad on everything, but I sure need a lot more practice before any checkride can happen. After and hour and half we came in and shut down for lunch. Pizza.

Karen had me call for a weather brief 47A to Andrews Murphy (my checkride airport) because she wanted to take me up and give me a feel for the checkride area. It’s right next to I-575 in North Carolina and easy to find from Cherokee if you just follow the big highway. A few mountains in the way that are best flown around instead of over. We found it lying in a valley next to the highway and did a few short field/soft field landings. I really need work on both of them, mostly the short field.

After a full stop we walked into the FBO for a drink. Lunch had made us both kinda thirsty and the thermals weren’t making us feel real good with all of that pizza in us either. Then we took off for a few more simulated emergency landings which weren’t too good either. I need to push the nose down much more to maintain airspeed after the flaps come out. I seem to have a mental block on that part of the procedure. Engine out, establish best glide, turn toward runway on short base/final, keep airspeed 80 mph, when runway is assured 30 degrees of flaps and slip down to the runway. After that we headed home and on the way she pointed out possible diverts that he would probably use. Ducktown or Blairsville.

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