Well we had a short week — not much to report this time. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day fell on the Saturday and Sunday leading into this week. New Years Eve and New Years Day fell on this past Saturday and Sunday, respectively. In between we had, wait for it… bad weather. I ended up only flying on this past Friday and Saturday, and utilized some of the rain outs for ground lessons.
On Thursday we did a ground lesson on ground reference maneuvers in anticipation of flying and practicing the maneuvers on Friday. There are three basic ground reference maneuvers that we practice and are part of the private pilot practical exam. There are turns around a point, rectangular course, and s-turns across a road.
The forecast for Friday was good, but come Friday there were gusty wind conditions, although it was a relatively clear day. We opted to fly anyway, as the point of ground reference maneuvers is to be able to maintain your intended flight path while correcting for wind. Practicing ground reference maneuvers on a day with no wind is counterproductive, although working on them for the first time with gusts up to 22 knots is just the opposite end of the spectrum. I figured it was worth it to go fly, at least to have my instructor introduce the maneuvers to me in practice. We flew out to the practice area, and although we had some pretty bumpy air, we were able to get a lot done. My instructor choose points on the ground and demonstrated each maneuver. After each demonstration, I took control, and started working on the maneuvers on my own. I found S-turns across a road to be the most challenging.
On Saturday the 31st, New Year’s Eve, we were lucky to have nice weather, although it was still rather gusty. We flew for 2.3 hours, a tie for my longest flight to date. While doing our run-up and pre-takeoff check list, we noticed a red fox frolicking around the runway! More on that later.
We took off and headed out to the practice area to continue work on the ground reference maneuvers we had started the day before. I choose the point to fly around, and began the “turns around a point” maneuver on the downwind. Entering the maneuver with the wind behind you, you use the steepest angle of bank and gradually shallow your bank angle as you fly around your point and the direction of the wind changes relative to the aircraft. Maintaining a constant altitude and scanning for traffic adds a degree of technicality to the maneuver, but overall, this seems to be the easiest of the three basic ground reference maneuvers for me.
Next was rectangular course. For this maneuver, we choose something on the ground resembling a rectangle, such as a large field. The idea is to fly around this rectangle maintaining a constant altitude and distance from the edge of your ‘rectangle’ all the way around. The wind will push you away from your rectangle when it is behind you and you will slow on the upwind. You need to manipulate your angle of bank when making your turn, and your degree of turn (in order to crab for the wind). This maneuver basically mimics flying the traffic pattern around the airport.
The last maneuver is S-turns across a road. The idea is to cross a road on the downwind with wings level, and immediately go into a left or right turn at a steep bank angle, and shallow your turn all the way through until you cross the road in the other direction again, perpendicular, with wings level. You then immediately go into another S-turn to the other direction, this time at a shallow angle of bank with a constant increase in bank until you are at the steepest angle of bank as the wind is behind you again, and you can again cross the road in the other direction, perpendicular, with wings level.
I practiced these maneuvers, and about an hour and a half into our flight, while practicing S-turns, I asked my instructor to take control and demonstrate one for me, as I was having trouble manipulating the bank angle correctly. This is the point at which I realized that until just then, he had not flown the plane at all… I had done everything and had been flying since we took off. Great feeling. We continued to practice maneuvers, and as dusk set in, headed back to the airport.
As we headed back to the airport, my instructor had me practice some stalls. I was much more confident and was able to enter and recover the stall much more smoothly, and minimize altitude lost on the maneuvers. We contacted tower and were asked to report a 3 mile base for touch and go’s. Being a gusty day, we were going to work on some crosswind landing techniques. I worked the radio and brought the airplane in for a landing to the best of my ability. My instructor helped at the very end due to the wind conditions. We touched down and immediately took back off. By this time, it was getting late, and dark fast. It was first time flying in the dark, with the instruments lights on in the airplane. As we reported our downwind to air traffic control, they asked if we could come in for ‘short approach’. I replied back ‘negative’ and they had us do a 360° turn to the right in order to hold us off as other traffic came in to land. When we came out of that turn, joined a base and then turned on final approach. The aircraft that was landing ahead of us, had to do a go around, meaning they aborted the landing and rejoined the traffic pattern around the airport. The reason for the go around? A fox on the runway!
We were on final approach and were told to deviate as they investigated the whereabouts of the fox. It was pretty busy in the air and everyone was put in a pattern around the airport. After a few turns at the direction of air traffic control we came in for our full stop landing. I executed the landing, and taxied us back to home base. It was completely dark at this point, and we were the last ones at the school… for the year. We had a short debrief and locked up and left. Happy New Year!