Wednesday, August 30, 2006

One year and counting...

One year ago I decided to get my pilots licence, actually on Aug. 27th it was one year to the day that I took my first flight in a small GA aircraft.

I remember being handed control of the aircraft a couple of minutes after takeoff and then flying around for about twenty minutes, it was all a blurr. I was hopelessly hooked.

I started ground school in Sept. 05 and then started flying my first lessons the end of October. Since I was paying for my lessons out of pocket as I went, I decided to fly once a week and see how things went. The biggest thing was not some much the money, although it is expensive, but getting the time and the weather to cooperate.

When I was told early in my training that I'd probably solo around 15 - 18 hours, and then I'd actually start flying outside the control zone a few hours after that! I thought my instructor was crazy, I mean if they're going to let me take this aircraft out all by myself after a mere eighteen or so hours of instruction, then they're crazier than I am. There was so much to learn and know, and all of it was so new.

Well, here I am exactly one year later and I'm on the home stretch. I've flown outside the zone all by myself for the first time and I and the aircraft have returned safely. Actually, I'm more comfortable in the aircraft without my instructor watching every move. (But it gets lonely not having someone to chat with... I miss you Dave!).

I'm writing my PPL next week and then I hope to pick up the pace as far as lessons go, I hope to have this little adventure wrapped up by Xmas.

If your reading this blog and thinking about flying yourself one day, stop dreaming and start doing.

Get things started by signing yourself up for ground school and book yourself a fam flight, that's all it takes to get things started.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Lesson #22 Forced Approaches (solo)

I had the aircraft booked for 9:00 AM this morning, the weather looked good so I made an effort to get there on time. I often run late in everything I do, but I managed to arrived a 8:50 AM, Fern was still in the hanger.

I filled out the flight log on the desk and then went back downstairs and hauled her out of the hanger, put the tow bar back inside and shut the hanger door, then did the preflight. She needed both fuel and oil, great. So much for getting up for a 90 minute solo. There's usually oil in the baggage compartment, but all I find when I look is an empty oil bottle. Nothing under the rear seats either. I then go back inside to see if I could find some oil in the Seneca, no joy. I couldn't get into the front baggage compartment because it requires a key, which I couldn't find. I then call Dave, his line's busy.

Ten minutes later I finally get through and was told to look behind the rear set of seats of the Seneca, I do and I find a bottle of oil. Back outside to Fern, I add the oil which is always a messy task. There's a spout that you put on the bottle to keep from spilling oil on the aircraft, unfortunately it's always covered in oil. Then I walk over to the fellow sitting in a Cherokee in front of the fuel pumps, he says that he's just about done and that he'll be moving in about "ninety seconds". I go back inside to wash the oil off my hands, check the METAR to confirm the cloud heights and then I go back outside to pull Fern over to the fuel pumps.

I fill both tanks up, put the static line and hose away. I get back inside and nicely situated with my kneeboard on, my headset wire tuck under my right leg and the belts done up and seat adjusted forward. I go to reach for the keys to fire her up and realize that I had left them in the pump. Shit! I then unbuckle and take everything off, hop out and grab the keys, get back in and get everything back on and look at my watch, it's now 9:40 AM.

Fifty minutes, I felt somewhat flabbergasted to say the least... The plane is book for 10:30, I think about it quickly and with everything I've been through this morning, adding fuel and then going on a mini easter egg hunt in search of oil, I figure that I desearve at least an hour. A few minutes later I'm levelling out Northwest of the airport at 3,000 ft, I call clear of the zone and ask the tower to confirm that my Mode C is working properly, it is.

A few minutes later I do my HASEL checks and start my upper air work review.

First thing is some turns at 30 degrees of bank, left and then right, stopping at a predetermined heading. I'm sloppy on my height and I'm overshooting my heading. I do a few more and things get much better. Next up are some 45 degrees turns to the left and then right. Initially I'm a little sloppy maintaining my height but I quickly adjust. I add a little power to maintain my A/S and height, I also need to add some rudder to keep the ball centered when I turn to the right, but not to the left.... interesting, must be engine torque.

A few minutes later I finish with the turns and then I do three forced approaches, all of which I make. I still need to work on my radio calls and Pax briefings, my cause checks and restarts are down pat though. After some trial and error I find that I prefer to use a forward slip with twenty degrees of flaps, rather than 40 degrees of flaps, for bleeding off any excess altitude on final. The forward slip allows me much greater flexibility in that I can both turn it "on and off" very quickly, or dial in a little or a lot as needed. The really nice thing is that I don't have to mess with my trim settings when I come out of it, (the trim has to be set after each flap change).

I check my watch and realize that it's time to head back. I won't be able to get any stalls, slow flight or any practise in the circuit with my crosswind landings today.

I join the circuit on downwind, I extend it a bit for spacing due to other traffic in the pattern. I float a little over the runway during the flair, there's only a 5 kt crosswind. I bring her back down without adding any power and then get her straightened out for a really nice touchdown.

I taxi back to the apron and shut down with 1.1 hrs on the hobbs. I'm late as usual, but the next guy doesn't have to spend any time adding fuel or oil...

My next lesson with be a dual with Dave, we're going to be doing some precautionary landings.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Update on next flight.

I've booked a solo flight for Saturday morning, but the weather's not looking good, so I also made a booking for Sunday morning as well. One of these two bookings should pan out.

During this flight I'm going to practise some steep turns, some slow flight, power off stalls and then shoot a few forced approaches. Finally, I hope to top it off with a few crosswind touch and goes back at the airport.

I hope to get everything that I listed above done in the 1.5 hours I have the aircraft booked for.

My hours so far:

Dual 22.1
Solo 2.6
T&L 85

Friday, August 18, 2006

Lesson #22 Forced Approaches II

Last lesson I learned how to do a successful forced approach. Basically set the aircraft for best glide and then pick a good location to land, then run the circuit by the numbers and land the aircraft on the spot that I'd chosen. During today's lesson I'd continue to practise forced approaches with my instructor, but with all the other important stuff thrown in to make it complete.

We started things off with a briefing. The first thing that a pilot with an engine failure needs to do is Aviate, this means fly the aircraft. The second thing a pilot needs to do is Navigate, basically find a suitable spot to land. The final thing a pilot needs to do is Communicate, tell the freaked out passengers in a calm voice to chill out and get prepared for landing, then call someone on the radio and let them know what's going on. I've oversimplified this process somewhat, but I'm going to run you through it shortly.

Takeoff and climbout was normal, we flew out to our normal training area which is located about 10 miles or so to the northwest. Our transponder was still giving us grief, it refused to work in Mode C during our last lesson, it was fixed this week but it's still not working properly. For those of you that don't know what Mode C is, it's a type of transponder that basically tells the tower/ATC your altitude. It's not required for our lesson, but it's nice to have.

We arrive over our training area and I'm just about finished trimming us out for cruise at 3,500 ft when Dave reaches over and pull the throttle back. I believe that he took some enjoyment in asking me what I was going to do now. I quickly pull on carb heat and trim Fern for 80 mph, which is best glide, I've got about 7 minutes to touchdown. I quickly find a suitable field and point us in that general direction. Actually, the hardest part about field selection on PEI is narrowing it down to one.

I then start my simulated passenger brief, I tell them that we're having some engine problems and that we're going to be landing in a farmer's field. That I've been trained for situations like this and there's nothing to worry about. As a precaution however they should slide their seats back all the way and remove any sharp objects from their pockets and place them on the floor. They also should remove their glasses and tighten their seatbelts. Then I tell them where our fire extinguisher is located and that there's a first aid kit in the back.

Next I make my mayday call, I tell the tower or ATC that we are declaring an emergency, that we've had an engine failure and will be landing in a farmer's field. Then I tell them where we are, our height, type of aircraft, it's colour and the number of people on board. Finally I switch the tranponder over to 7700.

If time permits, I begin my cause checks, going from left to right on the panel to determine if there's something wrong that can be made right again. I verify that the engine primer is locked, main power on, mags on both, carb heat on, fuel on both tanks, mixture full rich, then I check the engine's oil pressure and temp.

Next item on the to do list is to attempt a restart. I give the wings a good rock back and forth to dislodge anything that might be clogging the fuel pickups. Then I switch to the left mag and left fuel tank and crank the engine. If this doesn't work I switch over to the right mag and right fuel tank and attempt another restart. If time permits, multiple restart attempts can be made while running the circuit.

Just prior to touchdown, open both doors slightly to keep them from getting jammed shut. Next turn off the main power switch, switch the mags to ground and turn off the fuel supply. If possible perform a perfect softfield touchdown bringing the aircraft to a complete "shiny side up" stop.

My job's done, now I may bask in the praise of my passengers as they go on and on about my skills as a pilot. Next I swagger John Wayne like to the emergency vehicles as they scream up, these folks tend to get excited and they'll need to be calmed down as well...

Ok... I'll admit this last bit is a little "over the top", but I'm doing the writing here...

If time permits you can go through all the steps I've outlined above, else forget about them. As a pilot you need to always remember that your first priority is to fly the aircraft to your chosen landing site.

Dave ran me through a few simulated engine failures with me going through each of the steps. The first time I was a little rough and forgot a few things during the pax brief, but I got much better as the lesson wore on. As far as making my fields, I had no problems whatsoever as I was bang on nearly everytime, but I do have a habit of being a little high on final. For two of these forced approaches, we used the same two private landing strips from our last lesson, this allowed me to come right down to about 200 ft AGL.

My final approach of the day was by far my worse. I came in way too high and found myself cranking and banking so much on final that Dave even commented about our extreme nose down attitude, I quickly replied that we had full flaps on and that we were just a hair over 80 mph. (Stalling wasn't an issue as I was making sure that I careful not to load the wings too much). We overshot the field at about 500 ft.

My last approach didn't impress Dave, and I knew what was coming before he even started. He said that I shouldn't be putting myself in a position where I have to agressively manoeuvre the aircraft on final. Since we had plenty of time I should remember that I also have the option of making a slow turn to see what's on the other side of the aircraft, as well as what's underneath us. I can only imagine afterwards how I would have freaked out my already freaked out passengers, making turns at 45 degree of bank with the nose way down, coming in on final like the space shuttle. (I have to confess, it was fun though).

Anyways, it was time to head home. I had done six forced approaches during the lesson, each from a different height, with the last couple coming as complete surprises as Dave without any warning reached over and hauled the throttle back on me. Five of my landings would have been bang on and my sixth would have been possibly too long, my aggresive S-turns on final during my last landing would probably have freaked most passengers out.

Since our Mode C was on the fritz I called tower and told them that we would be entering the cz at circuit height (1,200 ft). The guy in the tower then asked what I wanted to do, usually they assume that your coming in to land after the standard hour long lesson. I replied that we wanted to land and that we were looking for the airport and traffic advisory. I received the info I need and Dave suggests crossing at midfield to join the downwind for runway 21, for a crosswind landing. I get on the radio again and let tower know of our intentions. A few minutes later as I'm just over midfield and about to make a left turn to join the downwind for 21, Dave asks me to report our position. I would normally have waited until I had straightened out on the downwind leg.

Just as I finished my radio call Dave reached over and pulled the power back to idle, "another engine failure" he declares with a smile, I comment somewhat colourfully about his timing.

I hold my nose up to bleed off speed as I finish my turn, then set her up for a best glide. Dave then calls tower to inform them of our simulated engine failure. I turn base early, and then final, running the numbers. I leaned over and dropped 40 degrees of flaps, then I remembered that this was going to be a crosswind landing and then pull the flaps back up to 10 degrees. I accidental left the switch in the raise position, Dave catches my mistake and puts them back down to 10 degrees.

The actual landing was soft, but messy. I touched down on my right wheel followed a few seconds later with my left, the nose came down about 5 seconds after that. It wasn't bad landing but it's obvious that I still need practise with cosswinds as I tend to lag behind on the rudder as I use the ailerons to keep us on the centerline. Practise makes perfect I guess.

Couple of things to remember from this lesson;

- If I have the time, I should use it to make sure that I get a better look at the area that I'm flying directly over for possible better places to land.

- Our flaps are electrically activated. I have to get into the habit of putting them up incrementally during my overshoots, instead of slapping the button up which raises them all the way.

- Turns at high angles of bank which most pilots quickly become comfortable with can really be unsettling to the occasional passenger.

With this lesson finished and my FI satisfied that I'm able to handle an engine failure, I'm now permitted to leave the cz and go out and raise havoc in the training area. My next flight will be a solo to practise my forced approaches and upper air work.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Studying for the PPL

The last couple of nights I have been reviewing navigation, basically I re-read the section in "From the Ground Up", highlighting key points for my final "last minute review". I also purchased "The Canadian Pilot Pilot Answer Guide" which contains literally hundreds of questions on the various sections of the PPL test.

I've been doing the navigation review questions from the CPPAG to identify any areas of weakness. The last couple of nights I've basically taken over the kitchen table with all of my flying stuff; maps, FTGU and the exam book, pencils, pens, calculator, highlighters and an eraser, not to mention the stuff a pilot uses for plotting, such at the E6B and a Nav Plotter.

Now, I have to mention that I already have the fundementals of navigation down pat, I'm good with maps and I have a strong sense of both directional and situational awareness. My first flight instructor Paula also did a wonderful job of explaining this stuff to us during ground school. But what I also have is a unique ability which permits me to make the most obvious and stupid mistakes imaginable. This has left me both frustrated and at times sitting there muttering to myself in disbelief.

Classic example: How long does it take to climb to 2,700 (asl) @ 300 ft per minute after taking off from such and such airport? The answer's obvious, until I got it wrong and picked 9 minutes... it's wrong because I forgot to subtract the airports elevation first. Dooohhh!

The next example takes the cake, and left me wondering if I've past my stupidity to my kids...

I measured the track between two airports that I want to fly, this seems pretty simple right? Except that I used the solid star (which denotes the avialibility of lighting) at one airport and the hollow star ( the proper reference point) at the second airport. I quickly discovered that nothing seemed to be adding up properly, mileage, course, fuel burn, true ground speed etc. were all off. Then I started thinking that the CPPAG was suspect, I decided to go back to the map and double check everything once more and this was when I spotted my obvious goof.

I know this stuff, why am I making these stupid mistakes...

On the flip side I've now mastered the nasty VOR again, and I am able to determine if I'm coming or going.... or somewhere in the middle.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Hitting the books

I been spending an hour here and an hour there studying for my written PPL exam. When I finished ground school last fall I had every intention of writting the test as soon as I hit the minimum required flight hours, but I never got around to doing it.

So now I find myself in a pickle... my to do list is getting very long.

1) I return to French language training the first week of September, this requires me do at least 10 hours a week of home study. But I first have to study for, take and pass the test for the last section I completed this past spring. I can read French at a bilingual level, but I need alot of practise in the speaking, writing and learning the proper grammer rules of said language.

2) We have a new baby due the end of September, so we're all excited about this.

3) We're getting a new puppy in the middle of Sept. ( the date sucks but this process started nearly two years ago, it's a long story... kids are excited)

4) Our deck has seen it last summer. I, with the help of a buddy are scheduled to start this little project the second weekend of September, of course weather permitting.

5) My neice is getting married the first weekend of Sept, so we have a trip to Cape Breton planned to attend the wedding. (Flying would be so much faster, 6 hr drive vs 1.25 hr flight each way).

6) A lieutenant's postition might be opening up soon at the firehall, and I'd like to apply. This would require study on my part to write the test and preparing for an interview.

As you can see I have alot on my plate right now, and I'm really trying the crack down and hit the books so I can get the PPL exam out of the way by the end of August. I hope to write it locally at my flight school, if they ever get around to setting up the computer. If writing it locally doesn't pan out then I have a couple hour commute each way, to write it in Moncton.

I hope to get up for another flight lesson within the next few days.

So much to do, and so little time to do it in.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Lesson #21 Forced Approaches

Today's lesson was forced approaches, we also reviewed some upper air work.

The day started off overcast and rainy, I checked the weather as soon as I got to the office, it looked like it was going the clear up by the time my lesson rolled around at 6 PM, and it did.

I arrived at the airport early and I was able to jump right into the preflight, then we pushed Fern over for fuel and topped her up. We hopped in and I started going over the last few items before engine start when I noticed that someone had taken my headset. It turns out the Dave had forgot them in the turbo Seneca earlier in the day, so he went back in to fetch me a headset while I finished the runup. The headset he appeared with must have been the crappiest one the school had, it did nothing to drown out the engine noise. The rest of the headsets that the school have are actually pretty decent, and they're free to use. I've decided to buy my own after to get my pilot's licence.

Takeoff was normal, I made a climbing turn to the northwest and proceeded out to our training area. Dave first wanted to review some upper air work so I levelled us off at 3,500 ft and then we did some power off stalls, no problem. Next we did some slow flight (65 mph), then some turns to a specific heading. With this quick review finished we started on the new stuff.

Dave went over the procedures that I needed to learn if the engine "fails", then he demo'd a forced approach, talking me thru everything that he was doing. Luckily PEI is full of landing spots, places like farmers fields and golf courses, so there's no problem finding suitable terrain. He quickly picked out a suitable field for us to practise with, one that was into the wind, smooth and didn't look like whatever that was growing in it would rip something important off the aircraft. It took him about a minute of describing the field in question before I was able to narrow it down. Once we decided where to land we simple did a "circuit" to get us there, he did what I'd call a textbook perfect forced approach. We climbed back up to 3,500 ft and I gave it a try myself.

I ran the same circuit but found myself a bit high on final, Dave suggested full flaps in order to increase our descent. Dave's suggestion worked and we would have easily made the field without overshooting. We then climbed back up and I did another forced approach, this time using a small private landing strip beside a golf course as my target. I came in slightly high again and I added full flaps (40 degrees), we were still high so Dave took control and showed me how to do some S-turns on final to scrub off the excess altitude, this worked perfectly. This time we went much lower and he actually overflew the strip at about 40 feet. With trees to our right and the hanger to our left, it was absolutely amazing. You really get a sense of speed when your that low. We climbed back up to 700 ft, then he did a 180, pulling some Gs, and overflew the field again the other way. I was like a kid on a new carnival ride, big grin the whole time.

We climbed back up to 3,000 ft and located another private strip a few miles away. He pointed it out to me and when I finally saw it he pulled the throttle back to idle. He said that I just had another "engine failure" and that I was on my own for this one. I quickly pulled on the carb heat, set Fern up for best glide (80 mph) and ran the circuit. I made sure that I applied full power for a few seconds for every 500 ft of verticle drop, this keeps the engine warm and ensures that we have enough heat to prevent carb ice and keeps us from shock cooling the engine (which is a concern in the colder months).

I came in slightly high again and applied full flaps, Dave said that I was still too high and that I was going to land too long. I said that I knew that and asked him to be patient. I then made a couple of shallow S-turns on final and managed to scrub off the excess altitude quite nicely. We would have landed right on the spot I was shooting for. Dave asked for control at about 100 ft and did a touch and go.

Dave seemed happy with how things were going, being slightly high on final is much much better than being slightly low. If I had an engine failure I'd be able to make the field. The key is to run the circuit and hit my numbers at each leg. If I find myself low I can make my turns to base and final early to catch back up. If I'm high, I can extend each leg a bit and use things like forward slips, full flaps and even S-turns to ensure that I scrub off the excess altitude in order to make the field.

We then decided to head back to the airport, a few minutes later we joined runway 03 on the base leg. A small twin commercial was coming in at the same time from the east, he landed on runway 28 at nearly the same time as we touched down on 03. I topped off the lesson with a picture perfect landing.

Some key points from today's lesson: Pull carb heat on then trim for best glide (80 mph), 3,000 ft AGL gives me about 6 minutes. Don't forget to warm engine every 500 ft. Find a suitable field into the wind, then run the circuit hitting the numbers. It's OK to be a little high on final, things like a forward slip, full flaps and S-turns are tools that can be used to scrub off excess altitude.
The actual landing is done with full flaps. Never ever scrub off altitude unless I'm 100 percent sure that I can make the field, once it's gone... it's gone for good.

My next lesson will be more review of upper air work, then some precautionary landings with simulated radio calls. In another lesson or two I should be able to leave the airport to practise on my own!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Good Canadian blog site.

I added a new blog site called Cockpit Conversation.

For those of you that are getting into aviation with a career in mind, I think that you should spend some time reading this lady's blog. It is really well written, funny and it'll give you a fairly good idea as to what may be in store for some of you.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lesson #20 The Circuit (Solo)

Crosswind Landings (Solo)

I was finally able to get up and complete the solo aspect of this lesson. Three of my bookings were cancelled due to weather, but the the forth was a charm. As usual the wind just would not cooperate at all, it would alternate bewtween 2 kts one day and then 20 kts the next.

I had booked my solo for Sat afternoon, I checked the weather a couple of times in the morning and the wind was gusting about 20 kts, which is way too high for me. My flight instructor wanted me practise in 5 - 9 kts of crosswind, without any gusts. I was hoping the wind would calm down and that these 20 kt gusts would stop as the TAF forcasted.

Lesson time came and I went out to the airport expecting another cancelled flight, I checked the METAR and surprise, surprise, the wind was now 320 at 10 kts, no gusts. This latest forcast put the wind at 340 (magnetic) which would be 60 degrees off of runway 28, my crosswind solo was a go! I spoke with my flight instrutor and he agreed.

I hauled the aircraft out of the hanger and preflighted her, made the call to tower and a couple of minutes later I was on the active (runway 03) doing my takeoff. I figured that I'd save some time by doing my takeoff on 03, then switch over to 28 rather then taxiing about mile and a half to takeoff position on 28.

I did my takeoff, winds were now 350 @ 12 kts, I switched runways at circuit height and then did my downwind checks. My first landing was a handful but everything quickly came back, it was starting to get gusty again though. It's nice having the windsock at the end of the runway to confirm what I'm feeling in the aircraft. Since my first landing went so well I figured that I go for another one, wind gusts be damned.

I made my downwind call and was reminded to make my call on final, which I had totally forgotten to do the first time. The only thing I can offer in my defense is that there was no other traffic in the pattern and that I had my hands full on my first approach... yes I know how feable that sounds.

This time I made my call on final and was rewarded with "winds now 350 12G16". While technically I was exceeding my limits on the crosswind runway (I did do my dual lesson with 16 kts of crosswind) I decided to continue and if things started to go bad I'd do an overshoot and switch back over to 03 and complete my solo lesson on the active, which was still within my instructor imposed wind limits. The landing thankfully went well, but I really had to work the rudder and ailerons to get her down. I touched down softly on the right wheel and then a few seconds later the left wheel touched down, I kept her nice and straight which took alot of rudder. I actually surprised myself with how well the landing went, considering the amount of control inputs I was using to compensate for the gusty conditions.

I decided to do another circuit and give it another try, hopefully the winds would calm down again. I made my call on final late since there was chatter on the radio, the winds were now 350 12 g18, so much for the winds calming down. My approach went well but I was starting to get a little low so I fed in some power to bring me back up to a proper glideslope.

I was about 100 ft AGL in a sideslipe as I crossed the threshold and reduced power, the rudder refused to hold her straight with the runway, I quickly added a couple hundred RPMs and she straighten back out for me. I really had her leaned over with the ailerons to maintain centerline. The gusts were playing havoc with me. At 50 ft AGL, one big gust hit me and threathened to blow me off centerline, after about 6 seconds I was able to wrestle her nearly all the way back. I was now at about 20 ft AGL and things were not looking great. I just got back over the centerline when another big gust hit me. Even with a faster than normal approach speed and a couple of hundred rpms of power, the rudder gave up and refused to hold her straight any longer, and to make matters worse she started to dive for the runway!

I believe that I actually said "nope" out loud as I made my decision to abort. I quickly but smoothly went to full power, released the rudder and levelled my wings, all at nearly the same time. Fern responded immediately with more than 1,000 ft/min climb rate. I called tower to let them know that I was overshooting.

I had "bottomed" out about ten feet above the runway. I did everything I could to salvage a tough landing, but it was not to be. I wanted to test the limit of my abilities, not how strong the landing gear was on the aircraft. As I climbed back up to circuit height I asked tower to confirm that the winds were 350 @ 12 gusting 18, they came back that their wind instruments were down and that they we reading the windsock like me..... "That's just lovely," I thought to myself. I informed them that I was switching over to runway 03 and staying in the circuit.

My next landing was good, as I had less crosswind to deal with but the gusts were still a big pain in the ass though. I was slow turning base and the winds blew me farther downwind then I would have liked, and as such I had a longer than normal final.

My next landing I over compensated for the wind on my turn to base and found myself way high on final. I quickly went into a forward slip and scrubbed off about 400 ft in no time. I made my call on final and tower replied back with the winds 350 @ 12 gusting to 18. I looked at the windsock and she was as straight as a board, which put the winds in excess of 15 kts continuous, 40 degrees to my left. I came in slighter faster than normal, the winds were still gusting pretty good and they were keeping me very busy. I got blown off the centreline so I added a bit of power and "flew" her back over to the middle of the runway again. I then reduced power again and got her settled down.

I was really working the controls to compensate for the wind gusts. I touched down lightly with my left wheel, then the right. She started turning left (into the wind) but I brought her back with the rudder. I pulled the throttle all the way off, then as the front wheel touched down she wanted to turn left again, this time I held full right rudder and I also had to add some right brakes as well to hold her, the ailerons were turned fully left all the way into the wind. The front wheel then started to shimmy, not surprisingly, so I tried to take some extra weight off of it by feeding in even more back elevator, then another gust hit and I could actually feel the right wing reduce the weight on the right wheel which immediately started to lock up. It was one thing after another. Eventually she settled down, I found myself about twenty feet left of centerline rolling along at about 20 mph. The actual landing itself was pretty good, keeping her straight and slowing her down proved to be a handful.

All this probably only took about 20 seconds or so, but I felt like ten minutes. I then decided that the winds were too high to continue in a safe manner. I called tower and told them I was going to do a full stop.

Looking back as I write this has given me time to reflect, I know now that I should have called it a day earlier. I held out hopes that the winds would come back down and I did four more circuits after my first one hoping things would pan out, which they didn't. Although each of my landings were actually pretty good, I really had to work very hard on each of them to make it happen. I had previously done some decent crosswind landings with my instructor in 16 kts of crosswind, and I have to say they were easy compared to what I was dealing with today. It wasn't so much the wind that was the problem, but the on and off again nature of the gusts that kept me busy all the way down, I'm not sure what they really topped out at.

My next lesson with my instructor will be precautionary landings. I intend to continue practising crosswind landings until I'm completely comfortable with using the sideslip method.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Now where's that runway?

During one of my lessons this is what happened as we were taxiing out to runway 28, which was the active.

I made my call to the tower to get the airport advisory, tower came back with an aircraft in the circuit that would be landing in about 5 minutes. Since it was going to take us a few minutes to taxi out to the active I called tower back and told them that I'd taxi Alpha, Charlie, Runway 21 to the hold short line for Runway 28 to wait for traffic. Since our tower is actually a "radio" you as PIC tell them what your going to do and then they let you know if that sounds good, usually with a "copy that".

As we were taxing out, there was some chatter back and forth between the aircraft in the circuit and the tower, the pilot obviously wasn't very comfortable talking on the radio. It sounded like he started talking and then was trying to figure out what he wanted to say as he went along. The next thing we hear is the aircraft announce that they were on final for 28. I looked over from our postion on taxiway charlie and couldn't see him, which left me wondering if I missed something. Maybe he called really late and was already down, in which case I'd not be able to see him at the far end of 28 due to the layout of the airport. Tower quickly came back and informed the pilot that they were actually on final for 03! My instructor and I said WTF at basically the same time, we both turned around and then confirmed for ourselves that this was actually the case.

The pilot came back with a quick sorry and then pulled up and turned right in search of runway 28. Dave and I just looked at each other and then I asked him if I had heard that right, Dave replied, "yep". We then had some interesting dialogue back and forth about how a pilot could mix up the heading of the runway by 110 degrees, let alone not see the big numbers on the end of the runway as they were on final!

We then watched them as they kept turning to intersect runway 28's base leg, then they polished things off with a nice three bounce landing. A couple of minutes later we were on runway 03 holding short of 28 as they taxied by. Normally we'd all give a quick wave as the other aircraft taxied by, but the pilot refused to look our way...

This has taught me a very valuable lesson, no matter what you hear on the radio while in the circuit, never take it a face value, always confirm it with your eyes. I'm still shaking my head at this one...

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