Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Thanksgiving - The Time to Fly

As I watched the evening news story about how Thanksgiving is the most heavily traveled holiday in the U.S., I felt very fortunate that I would not be dealing with the hassle of airport security or battling with thousands of SUVs on our highways. I have the benefit of a private pilot certificate, and for that, I am very thankful!
Maureen and I made plans to fly to Tampa to spend the holiday with my sister's family, Mom, Dad, my Aunt & Uncle from Denver, Dad, Nita and Kathy. Unfortunately, the Warrior was down with a bad transponder which would preclude flying in Tampa's Class B airspace.

Fortunately, Sterling had a very new Cessna 172S available. What a great bunch of folks these people are! When they acquired the leaseback for the Cessna about 2 years ago, I flew the plane once with an instructor--that was the only time I had spent in a 172. In spite of this, I remembered the starting sequence for the fuel-injected Lycoming IO-320, and the Malone's agreed to allow me to take the plane as long as I did three takeoff/landings before taking passengers.

Early Thanksgiving day, I took the Skyhawk up for a familiarization flight. The weather was predicted to be stormy early followed by stiff winds with clear skies. The weatherman was right. I told Maureen to meet me at the airport at 10:30 and I left early for my practice. After a pre-flight inspection that included draining 13(!) sumps, the engine started very easily. Gotta love that fuel injection!

Taxiing, it seemed as though the nose wheel steering was non-existent. I could not steer without touching the brakes. That's a bit unusual, but I suppose the bungees could be in need of replacement.

This is one incredibly nice plane - N5280R. Nice leather interior, almost every bell and whistle except for a flight director and HSI. GPS with a color moving map...dual nav/com...AUTOPILOT!!! Whooee! And the power!!! Ok, so my car has twice as much horsepower (close to it, actually), but my car won't climb at 1,000 fpm, and it only holds two people.

I had a fairly stiff crosswind about 10 to 20 degrees from the left with a total wind of 15 knots as I made my takeoff roll. I really had to crab quit a bit to maintain the runway centerline, but boy could this plane climb!

I proceeded to climb to about 4,000 feet and headed south to the practice area. Although Hayden had said I could take the plane after three TnGs, I thought it would be a good idea to do some stalls and slow flight before attempting a landing. So I did some slow flight and found that this is an incredibly stable plane. I then did a couple of power off stalls followed by an emergency spiral descent. I really like the way this plane handles.

As I tried to tune the NAV to the CRG ILS, I discovered that the GPS/VOR button was missing and the freq swap button on NAV2 was also gone. Oh, well, can't use the ILS this time.

I did my three landings and parked the plane in front of SkyHarbor for refueling. The plane was only about half full when I took off the first time and I didn't want to go away for a holiday weekend only to discover that the FBO at my destination was closed (it was, actually).

While I waited for fuel and Maureen, I found Hayden and asked him about the GPS/VOR switch and learned that it had popped out before and had previously been replaced. That's a flaw in a 2 year old aircraft, if you ask me. A search of the floor found no missing pushbutton. Looks like I won't be using NAV1. I found that by using my pen, I could swap channels on NAV2.

Anyway, Maureen arrived right at 10:30 just as I was about to drain the sumps again and we were wheels up at 10:45.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Instrument Lessons 8 and 9

Today I spent time in both the simulator and in N84577. The jist of both lessons was to increase proficiency on VOR intercepts and tracking and to use the VOR to determine the distance from the station.

The sim time went well - better than the first sim session. However, I still do not think the handling in the PCATD is realistic. I've been flying the Piper Warrior II, but the closest thing the sim has to that is a Piper Archer. The Archer is a little heavier and has more horsepower, so it climbs faster and has a faster cruise speed. The engine controls are not at all realistic. First, you have to pull the throttle back to 1/3 before there is any noticable impact on RPM, next, using the mixture control, you cannot hear any difference in performance as the mixture is leaned. The only think it seems to do is kill the engine if you pull it to full lean. (Which is about the only realistic thing it does).

Trying to trim the simulator aircraft for level flight is very difficult. First, there is no feedback in the yoke, so I have no idea if I am removing control pressure. Second, the sim is very sensitive to control inputs. Level flight is almost like balancing a golfball on the end of a pin. The instant I began a bank for a turn, the nose drops and altitude is quickly lost. Also, I don't know if the instructor was calling for severe downdrafts or if the controls were just being finicky, but the sim could go from level flight to a 1500 fpm descent in an instant.

In spite of this, I managed to land the plane using the ILS (on the runway this time!).

After flying the sim, we went airborne in N84577 - my least favorite of the Warriors at Sterling. In this plane, there is an old, inoperative auto pilot. This means that there are servos attached to the trim control and these cause the trim wheel to be very difficult to adjust. There was once an electric trim button on the yoke, but now it just has bare metal contacts. One of the instructors told me they work, but the control is very slow. Also, the turn coordinator tends to flop about more than the other Warrior's and the VOR is iffy.

The weather presented some challenges due to up/down drafts and it was bumpier than usual, however, I still managed to perform up to standard, if just barely within limits. After maneuvering around the practice area, we headed for home. Justin vectored me as though he was enroute ATC. I had tuned the ILS for runway 32 at Craig (KCRG - 111.7) and the CDI was alive. The NAV2 cdi was also indicating properly. We heard the tower talking to a faster aircraft behind us, and we were told to keep our speed up. That's not a problem in the Warrior. It is easy to keep the airspeed high especially with a steeper decent.

The DME was showing us getting closer and closer to the airport, but the glideslope was stuck in the middle. You would expect it to indicate that we were well below glide path when we were at 1500 feet and 8 miles, but it was showing in the middle. We got closer and closer to the airport and I did a fair job of staying on the centerline using the ILS. but the slope stayed in the middle - very strange. I knew I was not making a perfect descent, but the instrument said I was.

Justin had called for a descent at 500fpm and I was maintaining that, too. We were at 1000' and 1 mile out when Justin told me to go visual and said it looks like the glideslope is not registering. We were much too high!

I immediately pulled power to idle and waited for the airspeed to drop a bit before ading the flaps one notch at a time all the way to full. I then executed a forward slip - did a nice job of that, too. At about 75' AGL, I was on the proper slope according to the PAPI so I stopped the slip, added a little power and we flared at about 55 knots followed by a smooth landing.

That made a total of 331 landings for me and somewhere north of 150 hours total time. Next week no lesson- I'm going to Vegas, baby!

The week after, I'm doing a Saturday lesson on the sim for NDBs and Thanksgiving, I'm taking N512MA to Tampa for the holiday. I'm looking forward to that!