Sunday, January 30, 2011

Debrief - 29 Jan 2011

Lessons learned / reminders as a result of YATPL (yet another traffic pattern lesson). Main issue this lesson, base.. everything about it.

  • Maintain straight track after numbers, for some reason I was drifting left after the numbers
  • For my typical timing to work need approximate 2300 rpm on downwind, much slower will be much lower than usual and will have to fix that
  • No need for steep turns to base or final w/o high winds - unless, on extended downwind and doing the turns at higher power settings because too far from runway to do power off landing - in other words, bank angle of turns onto base and final must take winds and airspeed into account
  • Square off base and final turns - Keeps timing right if on standard power off approach (otherwise you'll be too high), also helps with ATC timing
  • Need to apply correct level of power to address too low situation (How do you get too low? Too slow on downwind, allowing too much descent after pulling power, diving turn to base or final.)
  • Remember to use flaps or forward slip to correct for too high (how do you get too high? Turn base or final too early. Not managing base/final glide angle right.)
  • If on power on approach add flaps first, then reduce power
Contributing Factors
  • aircraft: 93K - no issues
  • weather: winds calm, overcast at 3500-4500ft, cool
  • airport: Rwys 31L and 31R, moderately busy, 4 planes in pattern sharing two runways
  • pilot: I - 0, M - 0, S - 2, A - 0, F - 7, E - 4 (10 is worst, 0 is best) Fatigue - heavy period night before and ran 10 miles that morning, was more tired than normal, Emotion - had expectations for very good flying because of last lesson
Adjustments for Next Time If the weather is promising for next Saturday I will try not getting up early (before 6AM) and running long before the lesson. Instead I will sleep in, run 6 miles near home, then go to the valley to fly. I seem to have worse lessons on Saturdays than week days, the commonalities between these Saturdays have been long runs (resulting in increased fatigue) and higher expectations because of good lessons during the week.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Of Security and Flight...

This is a very good article on a couple levels... for one I totally agree about General Aviation and the amount of security required and the amount of "risk" GA poses to the general public. It is written by Lane Wallace and published in The Atlantic.

Second... hidden in the middle of the article is an awesome section about why we, the GA pilots who are not employed to fly, fly. Very good reading. I will quote that section here:

So why do pilots sacrifice and scrape together the money to fly, if not for a useful purpose? The reasons vary, of course. But for many, many pilots, it has to do with remembering something we all used to know, back when we were still young enough to believe that anything was possible and dreams could come true. "Three year olds," I once wrote in an essay on the subject, "may not know much about physics, investment banking, literature, or even the meaning of life, but they understand something very important about living.... [They understand] that life is in the ever-changing moment of the present, that joy is more important than possessions, and that dreams are the lifeblood of a heart and soul."

Unfortunately, as we grow older many of us find, or are told so many times that we start to believe it, that anything is not possible and dreams are for dreamers; irresponsible luxuries not related to putting food on the table. We live long enough to know the demons of disappointment and the restrictions of life's boundaries. Little by little, we lose that three-year-old belief in magic, dreams, and possibilities. And little by little, an important piece of our hearts dies.

And that is why many pilots fly. The exact incidents that draw future pilots to airports differ widely. But for many of them, the reason they stay is that in some way they can't even quite articulate, airplanes and flight bring that piece of their heart back to life. After all, flight itself a metaphor for freedom and possibility. A couple thousand feet up in the air, all the limits and disappointments of daily life fade away beneath an endless horizon and the thought, remembered again, of how unbelievably beautiful and vast the world is; how full of possibilities and roads still untraveled.

So, there you go. I hope someday you, too, can taste that freedom.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

"More of That"

Today's debrief... "more of that" :) Finally, today, I put together a 100% whole solid very good pattern. I danced the edge all the way around. Kept my airspeed constant during the climbing turns and finally (yet again) listened to what he meant when he kept saying to check the extended runway center line against the instrument panel to know if I'm high or low on base. The last two pieces finally came together. He even said the word "perfect" today about my climb out and turn and leveling off on downwind. I never thought I'd hear him utter that word.

Oh, not to say I didn't screw up too... first time around the pattern my climb pitch was wrong.. the warmer weather required a different pitch and I refused to believe the instruments, then I was WAY too low on base because of an extended downwind and didn't fix that quick enough. Second time too low again... Third time around the climb out and through downwind was perfect, but I screwed up final, came in way too high and did a go-around (which was almost done right... cram, CLIMB, clean!). Fourth time blew past pattern altitude by 100ft, but fixed it.

My landings weren't as incredibly awesome as they had been.. bounced twice on the first landing, flat on the second, third.. go around.. fourth, actually landed and exited on Delta for a change. Fifth I could have made Delta, but, my CFI was so happy about how good that pattern was he decided to end on a high note.

But it was so cool... I finally danced the whole pattern. That same feeling that got my landings good... those many many little adjustments throughout the process that made it very good. Made it good enough the debrief was simply "more of that" and we both smiled.

I'm smiling still.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Bit Closer to the Sky

Another beautiful sunset tonight... Pretty soft pastels of clouds floating in the blue. One of the clouds looked like my eagle. The one I will have as my tattoo after I get my PPL. A white eagle flying out of pink clouds.

I love seeing sunsets and sunrises now.. They give me a bit of joy just to see them... Now that I've been flying I feel like the sky is a bit of me or maybe I'm a bit sky. At the very least I feel closer to the sky. Maybe that's what some pilots talk about when they talk about touching God. It is hard to explain.

I really like sunsets in the winter... Its early enough that there are many planes flying... Jets on approach to SJC or SFO or OAK... GA planes on approach to RHV ... Pearls on a string they call them.. To me they look like diamonds sparkling against the pastels and blues of the sunset. And I know... sometimes one of those diamonds is me.

Me, a diamond sparkling in a bit of sky that is me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Evolution of Understanding

It's been a while since I last posted... I'm sure my IR's are distraught wondering what is going on in my flight training!

I've had three flight lessons since my last post. Two were really good. The last one I was "pitchy" but I know why :) Proof, my CFI says, that no one can improve at the same rate EVERY day. Yeah, yeah, he's right. But lets talk about the really good lessons. Why were they really good? my understanding of what my CFI's been telling me has evolved to the point where I am beginning to understand what he means!

Sorta funny how it happened really... one lesson, 5 flights ago, I had a very frustrating time trying to get this "flying the pattern" thing right. I just couldn't do it right.. things kept being wrong and I kept getting upset about it. I don't remember the debrief that day... I think it was something about if he could make it any simpler he would, but he can't... or something like that. I felt stuck, like I'd never progress. So I went home and wrote down everything I knew about flying the pattern. Then the next morning I made a whole document with everything I knew about flying the pattern, what to look for, what the plane will do, etc. etc. Everything. Two days later I was done. I sent it to my CFI for his review. I figured I must be missing something and if I wrote everything I knew down, he could review it and tell me what I was missing.

Next lesson, in our before flight briefing... he asks if I have any questions... I say, just tell me what I'm missing in this document. And he says he looked it over briefly but he isn't going to review it in depth because he knows I know everything he's taught me about flying the pattern. He'd seen me demonstrate every skill required. He said I knew how to do it, I knew what it looked like when it was wrong, what I needed to do was work on fixing it when its wrong. He also pointed out he wouldn't be able to fly a perfect pattern either 999,999 times out of 1,000,000.

That lesson was frustrating yet again, just couldn't get "it" right. Post flight briefing... I am to focus on the fixing of when its wrong, think about that he says. He also gave me a brief lecture on what "stare at the end of the runway" means. Driving home I was pissed. "What do you mean I know everything I need to know? If I do, why can't I do it right?! WTF?" For the first time I actually wanted to cancel my next flight. I didn't.. but the weather canceled for me. But I think the extra time "off" gave me time to finally internalize what he was trying to tell me that day.

After fuming for a day, I went obediently about my task... think about how to fix it when its wrong. I made little flash cards with each way I've messed up in the pattern (so many ways) and for each wrote down on the other side, how to fix it. Sometimes there is just one option, sometimes there were several. I made notes of the situations I wasn't sure what the fix was for my round of questions for my next flight lesson.

Later I was thinking about landing and staying on the center line and how to fix it. The thought crossed my mind, its like dancing on the edge. A process of constant small adjustments to manage what the winds and the plane are doing and where you put the plane. That reminded me of the song "Dancing on the Edge" by Concrete Blonde. I found the song and put it on and listened to it a lot that day.

Later I was thinking about how I finally figured out "trim for takeoff" didn't mean put the trim wheel at the "takeoff" mark that Cessna put near the trim wheel. It meant putting the trim wheel where it needed to be for a Vy climb with the current weight in the plane. Which meant it was NOT at the mark Cessna put there. It took me months to figure that out. I wondered what else I wasn't getting. Like "stare at the end of the runway". I resolved to really STARE at the end of the runway, the way my CFI described it. What does "if it ain't right fix it" really mean? Maybe it doesn't mean don't let it be wrong. Maybe it really means, recognize and fix it quick, and be calm and don't be unhappy about being wrong. "Close isn't good enough" doesn't mean its not OK to not be perfect. It means if there's something wrong don't just leave it wrong, fix it. I resolved... next lesson I would listen VERY carefully to what my CFI said and instead of worrying about being right focus on fixing it.

My next lesson was my birthday. I hoped REALLY hoped that I would have a good flight. I went out and had my best flight yet.... not that I got everything right, not at all, but instead I recognized when it was wrong relatively quickly and fixed it. I flew my best patterns ever. Recognizing and fixing quickly was key, that kept the errors from getting too big. And the landings! That I was doing right... I was looking at the end of the runway, and danced on that edge. What a difference a new understanding made.

My next lesson was emergency procedures... I didn't get everything right. I certainly hope I don't have an engine failure, but if I do, I know what to do now. And, in the practice I didn't obsess over what I did wrong. The lesson after that, my most recent lesson, not so good (aside from my landings when I wasn't too high) ... I wasn't maintaining Vy pitch on takeoff and I got fixated on the air speed indicator I chased it like I hadn't chased it in months... just couldn't get it right. *sigh* He covered the damn thing with a sticky note and my last time around the pattern was very good. Another thing to add to my little stack of flash cards about fixes.... if I can't seem to control air speed no matter what I do the fix is, stop chasing the airspeed indicator and use pitch. I also need to recognize more quickly when I'm too low.

I'm getting there, it is so much less pressure to simply recognize when its not right and fix it rather than holding myself to being perfect all the time. I'm listening more closely to what I'm being told now too. And yes, I do know everything I need to know, now the pieces just need to come together consistently.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

In Praise of Dual Controls

I've never been to a CFI awards banquet, but I have a feeling they don't give out an award like this one. The inscription reads "Instructor That's Been In The Most Crashes With A Student". This award was given to one of our driving instructors at the yearly awards banquet for our racing organization. This isn't the first time an instructor's been awarded for being in a lot of incidents with a student or competition license hopeful. Our race license "check ride" instructor got the nickname "Fireball" one season because he was in several roll over / car fires doing check rides for competition licenses.

Some may say that's proof that auto racing is more dangerous than flying. Frankly, I don't think so. I think its proof of the benefit of dual controls in the cockpit. When I'm doing these dual instruction flights, my CFI lets me make mistakes and fix them, but, on occasion he has to take the controls... sometimes I'm just not processing what he's telling me to do. Sometimes its because the recovery from the situation is beyond my skill to do safely so he does it. And sometimes its a situation where he demonstrates then I do it.

I think if aircraft were not equipped with dual controls, you'd see many more awards like these in CFI awards banquets. My personal goal... to NOT help my CFI get this type of award :)