Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Landing and A Hand Shake

I key the mike, "Paso Robles Traffic. Arrow 55X taking runway one niner. Remaining in the pattern. Paso" 

"Do you see anyone coming at us?" I ask my passenger as I check final, base and downwind for unannounced traffic. "Nope," he says as he checks for planes landing on runway 1 and runway 13/31. The winds are calm, pilots can be using any runway they want. I see a hawk circling near the approach end of runway 19. "Looks like a hawk on final," I'm trying to keep things light. "A common occurrence," my passenger says.

Green hills on the
way to Paso Robles
I taxi out to the runway center line and stop with my feet on the brakes. "Reds, blues, all greens, no reds," I say, verifying I have the fuel pump on, prop and mixture full, and all the gauges are in the green. Feet off the brakes, I advance the throttle to full smoothly with slight elevator back pressure, double checking the manifold pressure and RPM gauges for the right readings, and wait for the plane to tell me its ready to take off from the 6000' runway. My eyes watch the runway and the limp wind sock and my feet and hands keep the plane on the center line until the nose gear starts to bounce a bit and the plane takes off with just a slight bit more back pressure.

 I pitch for 100 MPH and verify we have a positive climb. I wait a bit longer until more of the runway disappears under our nose and bring up the gear. "Positive climb. Gear up." The gear motor whines quietly, the sound of the wind changes and I feel the plane accelerate when the gear locks into the up position. I extend my upwind a bit longer than I normally would to give myself more time to set up for this landing on downwind. I turn off the fuel pump and reduce manifold pressure and RPM to 25 squared.

"Paso Robles traffic, Arrow 55X left crosswind runway one niner. Paso" I turn crosswind and get ready to level off at pattern altitude. A plane passing through the area calls for advisories on turbulence. I think its strange for a plane that is not planning to land at an airport to ask for turbulence advisories at pattern altitude but I answer him. We were experiencing some very light chop. I level off at pattern altitude, pull the manifold pressure back to 17", the RPM back to 2350, turn downwind and then flip the fuel pump back on.

"Paso Robles traffic, Arrow 55X left downwind runway one niner. This will be a short approach. Paso" The other plane keeps talking and I keep trying to answer him. He sounded shaken for some reason. I line the plane up at an optimal distance from the runway and a thought flits through my head, "Why on earth am I talking to this guy when I should be focusing on what could be the most important landing of my flying career?" The conversation finished just before I was abeam my touch down point. In this case I was instructed that my aim point was the runway aim markers (wide white marks approximately 1000' down the runway and 150' long).

"Paso Robles traffic, Arrow 55X short approach runway one niner. Paso" This is for all the marbles. I pull power and hold the plane level as I reduce speed with the gear horn screaming in the background… I wait until it feels right and then put down the gear, turning slightly towards the runway as I look for my touchdown point to come into view again. I pull the prop back and the characteristic "Piper whistle" becomes apparent as we glide through the air. Air speed reduced to100 MPH I continue a shallow turn towards the runway, feeling for the sink of the plane and waiting for the moment to start bleeding off airspeed and adding flaps.

My "Stomping Grounds",
South County, Hollister, etc.
Once I know I have the runway made I start to pitch up slowly, reducing airspeed further, keeping my arc towards the touchdown point constant as I add the first 10 degrees of flaps and wait a bit more. Definitely have my touchdown point made, time to drag it up. I add the rest of the flaps, pitch for 85 MPH and start an easy forward slip that will land the plane right in the middle of the runway aim markers. I verbally go through a quick pre-landing checklist verifying each one, "Pump, Mix, Prop, Gear, Gas, Seat belts." I glance at my passenger, his seatbelt is still on. "This is going to be good," I think.

100' or maybe 200' over the runway the worst possible thing happens. The plane is lifted up what feels like a 100 feet or more in a sudden updraft. I can't believe it. No! Not on THIS landing! "OH, COME ON!" I exclaim out loud. I immediately put in full right rudder, full left aileron and keep the airspeed nailed at 85 MPH as I take precious seconds to see if that would be enough to get the plane back down fast enough to land within 200' of the 0' point. "Don't make me go slower!" I tell the plane in my head, "cause I can go for 75 MPH and get down even quicker if I have to." This was the last arrow in my quiver and I was willing to use it. It becomes apparent that I should still land within spec if everything else goes well so I keep the control inputs constant as the plane accelerates towards the runway. I have a brief mental image of a white, red and grey low wing airplane dropping like the proverbial rock towards the runway with one wing down, one wing up and the side of the plane into the wind. I wonder what anyone watching may be thinking. I wonder what my passenger is thinking.

I keep the motion of the plane aligned with the runway center line in the very aggressive slip and watch my airspeed carefully. At just the right moment, just over the runway, I neutralize the control inputs and raise the nose to bleed off the remaining airspeed. There is almost no float as I land firmly, but not hard, on the center line but I land just past the end of the 150' runway aim markers. I am pretty sure I touch down within 200' but what I think doesn't matter. My passenger has the final say. I maintain directional control of the plane as I slow down to taxi speed and head towards the Charlie taxiway. "Well," he says, "The good news is you landed within 200'." I wonder what the bad news is but say nothing as I taxi clear of the runway.

"Paso Robles Traffic, Arrow 55X clear one niner at Charlie. Paso." I stop the plane and go through my after-landing checklist. Pump off, transponder on standby, flaps up, trim for take off. "Paso Robles traffic. Arrow 55X taxing transient via Charlie. Paso." I taxi very carefully to the transient parking area, staying exactly on the centerline all the way. We chit chat a little about how hard power off 180s can be, especially when you get caught in an updraft like I did. Internally I'm wondering what the bad news is. All I know is I can still screw this up. I pull into parking, carefully shut down the engine and begin securing the plane.

The FAA Designated Pilot Examiner takes off his headset, notes the hobbs and tach time, and exits the plane. I also record the hobbs and tach time and almost reluctantly take off my headset and climb out of the plane. Time to face the music. All I know is I did my best. I jump down off the wing and look at his face. He is grinning broadly. "Congratulations!" he says as he shakes my hand. With that one landing and a hand shake I am a commercial pilot.

Paso Robles traffic, California has a new commercial pilot. Paso. 

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