Wednesday, April 3, 2013

If only I could describe how it feels...

Me with the Arrow after earning the complex endorsement.
A whirlwind couple of days... completing the ground and flight training required for a complex endorsement and to meet the insurance requirements for me to fly the Arrow as Pilot in Command.


Monday after a quick pre-flight briefing we take to the pattern to practice take off and landing procedures and simulated engine failure. Cleared for take off I line the plane up on the center line of the runway. My CFI, Scott, stops me and tells me to burn this image into my brain. This is what I should make every landing look like. If I want to be a commercial pilot I must be able to land on the center line every time.

I take off and launch into the pattern, feeling behind the plane and stumbling through verbalizing the pre-landing checklist. I am too high on final and round out like I'm landing a 182 with the nose way too high for an Arrow, but I get away with it and land gently if not correctly. I land exactly on the center line. The next two times have similar results. Exactly on the center line but a too high pitch and not really rounding out over the runway, more like stalling the plane over the runway rounding out and touching down just at or above stall speed. My CFI tries to get me to focus on the pitch I need to maintain the airspeed I need and the right landing attitude I need to hit for a good and safe landing.  We also verified the landing gear emergency extension lever worked. It did. One time the gear lights failed, I heard the gear come down, felt the kicks of the gear locking in, but the lights didn't come on. I flew downwind not sure what to do, my brain running through what I've learned and drawing a blank. I started to ask for help, then my eye went to the panel light switch. It had mysteriously turned itself on. I turn it off and the gear lights came on.  We do 10 trips around the pattern that day with me starting to understand better what I need to do but not quite executing on it.


Tuesday, I have to complete 8 more take offs and landings and 1.2 hours of flight before endorsement and insurance sign off is possible. Depending on my performance it could take more time. I have another pilot in the back seat as ballast so I can see how different it is to land a heavier loaded Arrow. He is also hoping to learn some more about landings in the process. This time my CFI promises to cause the gear to fail often and I'd have to identify, troubleshoot and resolve it in the pattern. The pre-landing checklist is key. We do normal, short field and soft field take offs and landings. I feel less behind the plane and am stumbling over the pre-landing less. Boost, (carb), Gas, Undercarraige, Mixture, Prop, Safety. I keep forgetting to verbalize the final check of the landing gear on short final. Three green over the fence I should say. I forget. I'm not as perfect with the center line as I was the day before, but I get better. Each time we taxi back he points out what the requirements are for commercial pilot landings, what is required for a normal landing and a short field landing. If I want to be a commercial pilot, no time like the present to start working on that effort. We should be getting off at Delta easily each time he says.

Every time I put down the gear I wonder if it will come down, or how it might fail. Sometimes it works. One time the gear doesn't come down at all. I quickly use the emergency gear extension lever and it locks into place without a hitch. Another time the gear comes down and I'm on an approach that I think is good, I have the right pitch and airspeed. I'm over the fence and my CFI prompts me to check the gear. I glance at the gear lights and see green so I say Three green over the fence. I get told, Go around! Why? I ask. I was set up for a great landing, I thought. Go Around! I execute the go around and see why. The left main gear light is out. I see the bulb is loose. Damn it. I shove the bulb back into place and we have the three greens. I'm going around. I let the tower know. Cram, climb, clean - flaps, gear, flaps and flaps. As we climb away from the runway I have no problem verbalizing. That won't happen again! Now I'm mad. That won't happen again.

The next time around I verbalize the checklist and when I'm on short final I touch each green bulb quickly. Three green over the fence, I say. My landings are starting to come together better, my reactions are quicker and I feel less behind the plane. Around again, on downwind, gear down, I hear it, feel the gear lock into place, no greens. My hand moves quickly to flip the panel lights off. Three greens. We land and taxi back. Three more times, my CFI says, make them count. The mysterious gear failures stop and my CFI is silent. I am able to concentrate more on my landings. The sight picture I needed for the pitch and airspeed on final was coming together. Then it was over.

We taxi back to the club and my CFI grabs my logbook and goes inside. Our "ballast" and I tie down the plane. We go inside and my CFI is waiting for me to sign in the plane so he can enter the required endorsements into the computer system so I can check the plane out solo. Then he asks for my pilot's license so he can put my pilot certificate number into the complex endorsement. No asking me if I felt confident I wouldn't kill myself this time. No need to waste our breath. He knows and I know, I can do this.


Today, Wednesday, I have the Arrow reserved early. I want to take it up solo quickly to cement what I've learned. I'm not near as nervous for my first solo, or even my first solo in the 182. I am calm. I do the run up and line up for take off. I'm cleared for take off and flip on the boost pump. On the center line of the runway I review the situation, Blues, reds, all greens, no reds, I say. Meaning I've checked the mixture, the prop, gear, oil temp and oil and fuel pressure gauges and there are no red warning lights anywhere. I move the throttle to full smoothly and off I go. Lift off at 68MPH and pitch for 100MPH. Positive rate of climb, no more usable runway, gear up, I say and move the gear lever to up. The gear goes up, Hear it, see it, feel it. Gear transit light is off. Noise abate turn crosswind, at 750 AGL shut off the boost pump, make sure fuel is still flowing, reduce MP to 25", pull prop back to 2500 RPM. Already at pattern altitude, pitch, then power to 17" and 2350 RPM since I'm staying in the pattern, trim.

Turn downwind. Boost on, gas full tank, gear down. Gear comes down, hear it, feel it, see it. Three greens, one, two, three. Mix is full, Prop leave alone. Cleared for landing. 14" MP and 10 degrees of flaps. Slow the plane to 100MPH. Let it start descending, turn base. 25 degrees of flaps. I'm high, 40 degrees of flaps. Boost, gas, undercarriage, mix, prop full, safety. Pre-landing checklist complete, I say.  Turn final. I maintain pitch for 85MPH. Keep the numbers in the same spot on the windscreen. Adjust the power a bit for some sink over the mall. Three greens over the mall, I say, touching each one, just to be sure. Maintain that pitch, aimed at the numbers, round out and reduce power at the same time. I touch down ON the numbers, ON the centerline, lightly. I let the nose gear down, reduce power and turn off on Charlie. This time I let out a whoop! There! Check that out, Scott! I say out loud. Yes! THAT's the way to do it!

I pull clear of the runway and stop the plane to clean up and review the after landing checklist, another habit to get into for commercial flying. I tell myself if I do two more like that, I'll stop early. My next two didn't land ON the numbers, but they were ON center line and perfectly within the commercial spec I was secretly thinking was a long way away from my grasp the day before. I easily taxi clear of the runway at Delta.

What a glorious feeling! I'm adapting to newer and more complex planes quicker. Flying the Arrow doesn't seem as difficult as I thought it should be. I was able to do some my best landings in what feels like forever in a plane I've flown all of 5 hours. I never know when a particular phase of learning and flying will come together with relative ease or difficulty. But when it does come together, be it easily or with difficulty, when it all clicks .... sigh .... I just don't know how to describe it. No matter what, it is wonderful.

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