Sunday, October 9, 2011

Make a tight left turn

I was in the pattern yet again (I've spent a lot of time in the pattern!) and was trying to work on soft field landings, and failing. Again. I'm not here to tell you about that however... something more interesting happened that day, something I went home feeling good about.

We had light crosswinds at the start of the hour, taking off and landing on runways 13 (not the normal direction for this airport). The controllers kept shifting myself and a couple other planes between 13L and 13R and the wind was visibly shifting to favor runways 31. My CFI happened to be in the pattern with his CFI candidate student in a Piper Arrow. I knew he was there, and like any student, was hoping I wouldn't screw up with my CFI there. The winds kept shifting and finally one of the other pilots got on the radio and pointed out to the tower it would be a good idea to change runway directions. The tower agreed as I had just turned right crosswind for 13R.

The tower instructed another plane to do a 180 and land on 31R. I turned downwind for 13R and then the tower asked me to do a tight left turn and a 180 for 31L. They wanted a tight left turn because that would be required in order to make the turn without going into Class Charlie airspace. I said "wilco" and started a slight right turn to give myself more room to avoid Class Charlie. I was at pattern altitude (1000 AGL) and flying very slow (65kts with 10 degrees flaps) at the time because I was making certain I would not get too close to the plane in front of me in the pattern for 13R. As I was maneuvering I was thinking.. I'm low and slow. If I attempt a steep turn I'll likely stall the plane. I wondered briefly if I was missing some aspect of aerodynamics or skill thinking I can't make this turn safely. However, it was my ass on the line if I screwed this up.

I radioed the tower, "unable, I need to make a right turn." The tower cleared me to make the right turn do right traffic for 31R. No problem. That I did... I did a couple more take offs and landings on 31R and then shut it down for the day. I knew the decision I made was the right one based on the information I had and my skills. I didn't know if my information was correct... would it be possible for a pilot of better skill than mine to do a tight turn at that low a speed without crossing into Charlie safely? I resolved to ask my CFI about it the next time I talked to him.

So my next lesson, I asked him. Did I make the right decision? was it possible to do that turn? He confirmed my understanding was correct... at that speed, if I were to attempt a steep (45 degree bank) turn, the angle of attack I would have needed to maintain altitude would have stalled the plane. He said my other option would have been to tell the tower to get me clearance into Class Charlie so I could do a safe turn. But he reaffirmed several times I made the right decision. He has a saying  "When a pilot makes a mistake, a pilot dies. When a controller makes a mistake, a pilot dies." So true.

Later that same discussion, he and I agreed. It is time schedule my check ride. Flying in circles in the pattern isn't doing me any good. Its is time to just go for it. So go for it I will do. My check ride is scheduled for 11/9/11. I like that date... it seems like a good date.  A common discussion you hear before a marathon "Are you ready?", "I'm ready as I'm gonna be." and that's about it. I'm ready as I'm gonna be... time to finish this phase of training off. We've got three hours of formal check ride prep flying to do, some more oral prep time, maybe a couple more tweaks between now and then but I'm on my way!

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