Sunday, November 24, 2013

Just Land it in a Football Field

I'm watching Sunday night football right now. Earlier today I practiced commercial maneuvers solo for almost 2 hours, 1.9 hours to be precise ... and I'm always precise. :) The weather was perfect ...  sunny clear skies, cool, not too cold, light winds aloft, calm winds near ground level. The last few weeks I've been focusing on various take offs and landings - mostly soft field takeoffs and short field landings. I was struggling with them. Today I wanted to do some air work too, just to make sure I still remembered how to do things like lazy 8s and chandelles and then try out my CFIs suggestions for some of the maneuvers I needed to work on.


I requested a left downwind departure, did a really sweet normal takeoff, stayed below 1500 feet, ducked under San Jose's Class Charlie shelf and headed over to an area with a couple fields and a golf course to do 8's on pylons. They were much easier than the last time I did them.. this time I started at the right pivotal altitude. I nailed it, first try. Good start.

Next, move further away from Charlie and do chandelles to gain some altitude. About half way through the first chandelle I realized the attitude indicator in the plane was different from the one that I had gotten used to. It was missing the 20 degree pitch mark. It was then that I realized how much I relied on the AI to validate the pitch at the top of of the first 90 degrees of the chandelle. I had to adjust quickly.  I struggled with picking my visual references but was just within spec. The next one was better and the one following that was even better.

I decided to reward myself with some lazy 8s. My favorite maneuver... I got lined up on some great visual points and started the first portion when I saw a small plan just off my nose, not close but I wasn't sure where he was going. I stopped the 8 and tracked him until I was sure he was no factor. I turned back around and started again, when I came out of the first half of the 8 my airspeed was too high. Hmmm... ok, need to bring the nose up sooner. Line up again, lost track of my visual reference points. OK, try again, better this time. Within spec but not as good as I was doing them the month before. Goes to show practice makes perfect and no practice makes for less perfect.

Time for steep turns, last time I didn't maintain altitude well. CFI suggested add some power if I'm going to do that 50 degree bank. So I did. It worked great. I had to constantly adjust to remain in spec but it was possible. Good. Steep spiral time. I just recently learned how to tell what I was turning around from high altitude, so this time I practiced actually adjusting bank to keep my turning point in the right spot. That seemed to work but I know I need to work on that one some more.

Pattern Work

Alright, now to practice what I was learning the last couple weeks in the pattern. Manage airspeed and land the plane within 100' of a touchdown point. When you stop and think about it, 100' is 1/3rd of a football field. A football field is big. It should not be hard to land in the first 1/3rd of one. But that is what I was struggling with.

I was monitoring CTAF for South County. Winds were calm but most planes there were using 14 so I set up for an approach there. I was high on base, put in extra flaps, slipped it on final, and landed long (for a short approach). I got off on the first taxi way but wasn't happy with the approach or the landing. I wasn't sure what I did wrong aside from being high.

I put it out of my mind... I figured it was time to do a soft field takeoff, my most recent nemesis. I set the flaps for 25 degrees, made sure the plane was trimmed and took the runway holding the yoke back. Aligned with the centerline, feet on rudders, accelerate smoothly with control pressures back, when the nose starts to come up, relax that back pressure. Plane in the air, smoothly keep the plane low in ground effect and accelerate. Fast enough and allow the plane to climb and take up the gear. The plane shoots into the sky. THAT was nice. I wondered if I could do that again.

The next few rounds I kept missing the mark on the short field but I did good to great on the take offs. So I figured I would do a power off 180 or two. My first 180 I was way too high... it was then I remembered I needed to think about the winds, the winds were calm. I was turning at a good time for a 10 knot headwind. My second power off 180 I extended just a bit longer after pulling the power and made it. I thought I did it within the 200' distance allowed. It's hard for me to tell.

I tried one more short field approach and landing, that one seemed just a bit better, definitely good enough for private pilot, but I wasn't sure about commercial standards. I had done 7 laps in the pattern at South County, an hour in the air doing maneuvers. I figured it was time to call it a day. I left South County and flew north back to Reid-Hillview.

I was annoyed, this shouldn't be this hard! All I have to do is land in the first 1/3rd of a football field and football fields are big! Oh well, time to see how I could do on the return to RHV. I decided to do a "normal" landing at RHV and see if I could put the plane down in the first 200'. I was careful to manage my airspeed and brought the plane down nicely and was off by Charlie but I still don't know if it was "to spec" or not. *sigh* Maybe I need to take out my GoPro again.

Beautiful Day

In the end, it was a beautiful day no matter what my landings looked like. I was frustrated with not making progress on the landing front, but pleased with the progress on the soft field takeoffs front. I had been very frustrated with the soft field takeoffs earlier this month. So, I decided, if I can do more and more good soft field takeoffs after how bad they had been, I can do good short field and normal landings too. Somehow.

I have to admit I don't like this stage of flight training.. that fine tuning time that I'm working through now. I got through it on my private .. I can get through it on this one. I just have to not give up. It will come.

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