This week was amazing. We flew on Monday 12/19, Thursday 12/22, and Friday 12/23. I left the airport on Friday afternoon with an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. During our flight on Friday afternoon, I made my first fully unassisted landings. Not a bad “self-given gift” for Christmas.
Lets backtrack a few days… On Monday 12/19 I returned to school for the start of my second week of flight training. If you read my last post, you know that there were some ups and downs during week one (no pun intended :p ). I was scheduled to fly on Sunday 12/18 but lost the day due to weather. This gave me the weekend to relax and recharge starting my second week with a clear mind and positive outlook.
I arrived at school on Monday and we made it a point to get as much flight time in as possible. We ended up logging 2.2 hours, my longest training flight to date. I learned slow flight, steep turns, and started traffic pattern!
Slow flight consists of configuring the airplane in a way which results in flight at an airspeed of around 60 knots. Regular cruise is around 110 knots for comparison. Slow flight is achieved by combining a low power setting with the necessary pitch attitude which results in your desired [low] airspeed. During slow flight, the airplane’s controls are sloppy and less responsive, due to a decrease in airflow over the control surfaces. When turning during slow flight, you want to limit your bank angle, keep it shallow. The steeper the bank angle, the higher the stall speed, and during slow flight, depending on your bank angle, stall speed and airspeed may be converging.
The next skill we worked on were steep turns. Steep turns are 360° turns at a 45° bank angle while maintaining a constant altitude. These are lots of fun! The maneuver begins with a turn to either left or right, holding 45° of bank, adding power and back pressure as necessary to maintain altitude, and following the turn all the way through 360° until you are back on the heading your began with. When approaching the heading you started the maneuver on, you roll wings level and immediately go into the same steep turn to the other direction. I had a lot of fun with steep turns, although I definitely need more practice in order to keep all the variables in check.
After practicing these maneuvers, we headed back to the airport, and while we still had daylight, decided to do some touch-and-go’s! A touch-and-go is a landing followed by an immediate takeoff — with no stop on the runway in between. You simply land the plane and as it is rolling, reconfigure it for immediate takeoff. As we approached the airport from the practice area, I did most of the radio calls, with the assistance of my instructor as necessary. My instructor demonstrated the first touch and go, landing the plane, and immediately taking off and rejoining the traffic pattern around the airport. I then took control and flew the pattern, made the necessary radio calls, and brought the plane in for landing. During my first two attempts at landing, my instructor was helping me on the controls, fine tuning my inputs. I hadn’t done it completely on my own, but it was exhilarating nonetheless. We did two more touch-and-go’s and then a full stop landing, and our longest flight to date was complete. The experience was incredible.
I returned on Thursday 12/22 and the skills we worked on were steep turns and stalls. We departed the airport for the practice are and began our training. Aerodynamic stalls occur when the aircraft’s wing is no longer able to generate the lift required to sustain flight. Inducing a stall and practicing the recovery is necessary in order to understand at what limit this condition may be encountered and how to recover if you should ever experience a stall outside of a training environment. Going into this, I imagined stalls as being more violent and uncomfortable than they ended up being. We practiced three types of stalls — power-off stalls, departure stalls, and approach stalls. In each scenario, the aircraft was configured in a certain way to simulate a scenario either during takeoff, flight, or upon landing. We then induced the stall, and worked on recovering the aircraft. Lets take an approach stall for example.
During an approach stall maneuver, we configure the airplane as though we were coming in for a landing. Power is decreased to between 1500-1600rpm, full flaps (30°) are applied, and pitch is set to achieve an airspeed of 60 knots. This simulates the configuration of the aircraft during a decent to landing approach. At this point, we pull back on the control yolk, increasing the angle of attack until the wing can no longer produce the lift sufficient to maintain flight, and the stall occurs. As you pull back on the control yolk, the airspeed drops and the stall warning horn begins to sound. Shortly there after there is pronounced buffer that can be felt through the airplane’s controls, and immediately there after the aerodynamic stall occurs and the nose of the aircraft begins to fall sharply [toward the earth]. When the nose begins to fall, you relieve the back pressure on the yolk, add full power, and add rudder as necessary to level the wings. Retract flaps and pitch for best angle of climb. I’ll have to get my Go Pro into the cockpit one of these days, as a written explanation of the maneuver does it no justice.
On Friday 12/23, I had my best day of flight training to date. When I got to school that afternoon I told my instructor that I had been talking to my cousin, who is a private pilot, and we were planning to fly to the 2017 Air Venture Airshow in Osh Kosh, WI, in July of 2017. I mentioned to my cousin that I wanted to go and he expressed interest as well. If my training stays on course I should be an instrument rated private pilot and working on my commercial rating by this point. My instructor suggested we do a cross country flight, as a bit of an introduction to flying from place to place, rather then just going out to the practice area and flying around doing maneuvers. We headed out and decided to fly out to Lancaster, PA, where we would call the airport, join the pattern, and do touch and go’s. Along the way, he had me practice climbs, descents, steep turns, and stalls. As we approached Lancaster airport, I made the calls to ATC and was cleared into the pattern for touch-and-go’s. These were my first two, completely unassisted landings of the airplane. I made the calls, flew the pattern, landed the plane, and took back off. I remember coming in for the first landing. I was on final approach, maintaining 70knots, with the runway’s glide slope lights indicating a proper angle of descent. As I came down over the threshold, I brought the power to idle and glided the plane down close to the runway. I brought the nose up and let the airspeed bleed off, and we had touchdown. It was an amazing feeling. When my instructor confirmed that he had no input on the landing I remember saying “That was ****ing awesome!”.
We flew back to home base, and I left for the week feeling on top of the world. Everything felt right. It felt like I was finally doing what I was meant to do. I ended the week with 12 hours of total flight time complete, with a feeling of complete satisfaction and achievement. Plenty more to come.