Rich's Quest For Flight

My father was a pilot. He died doing what he loved to do. It has been a goal of my life to become a pilot. Now I have chance to do so. Follow me as I pursue my dream.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

KRYV 022335Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT070 A2992 RMK AO2

Tonight, this pilot almost became a statistic. Twice.

The weather was just wonderful. No wind. Land on the longest runway. Which seemed to cause some people some problems.

It's routine now. Check out the plane. Preflight. Engine start. Before takeoff checks. We took off from Runway 29 and depart the pattern to the north, toward Dodge County Airport. So smooth, the climbout was almost relaxing. We get to 4000' and level off for some maneuvers. Clearing turns first, then into steep turns. But once again doggone it, I don't quite have the speed right and I start losing altitude. And once you start going down, it's hard to get back up, since nearly half of the lift generated by the wing is turning the plane. Put in some throttle and hope for the best. The right steep turn wasn't as bad, but I turned out a little late. Taking these lessons in the evening means that the sun is setting, so there's no trouble figuring out where west is. But I also can't see my gauges from the glare. In fact, I can't see much of anything in the sun glare. Next was slow flight in the landing configuration. Seemed like it took forever to configure the plane for slow flight. The envelope that I'm flying in is very narrow. With flaps down, I have to maintain altitude while holding the speed just above stall. With the angle of attack already high, if I pitch up higher, the plane will stall. It's almost like flying while standing still. So I finally get there, and I'm directed to make a turn to the left, then pull power and stall. A turning stall it is. Except that in anticipating the imminent stall, I level the wings early, and then stall. What can I say, I'm a cautious flyer.

As we recover, we're over Dodge County Airport (KUNU). Adam pulls the throttle and I've lost my engine. Time once again for the ABC. Pitch for best glide Airspeed of 65kts. Look for your Best landing option. We already were over the airport, no problem there. Then, perform the engine failure Checklist. All that done, it was just a matter of bleeding off enough altitude so we can make our turn for final. Once the runway was assured, then put the flaps in, pitch for landing airspeed, and land. And thus was the first touch and go of a sequence of at least five for the day at KUNU. On the next 3 circuits I made my turn for final late each time. I also kept coming in high. I must concentrate better. Then Adam reminded me of the optimal speeds for our descent sequence. Once power is reduced, put in first notch of flaps, then pitch for 85kts. Turn to base, next notch, pitch for 75 kts. Then on final, last notch, pitch for 65kts. I know he said this way back when, but now it was finally clicking in my mind. 85-75-65. Simple as that. My mental checklist is now that much better.

After a soft field, then short field, and they were both the best of the type so far. But, seeing as all my previous tries at those were so bad, it's not saying too much. But the improvement continues. So now on the next circuit we're going to set up for a high approach so that we can practice a forward slip. A forward slip is a way of turning the airplane sideways in the air, causing the wind to flow at an angle over the wing instead of straight over it, resulting in reduced lift and a quick loss in altitude. If everything works right, you get down fast, but without gaining too much speed, just in time to straighten her out and land normally.

We were using Runway 26 at Dodge County, and during our downwind leg we heard a plane call that they were on the right downwind for Runway 20. All runways at Dodge County are left pattern, so we were on alert. No problem, except that neither us could see the plane. We continue, and I begin my turn to base. Just then, the other plane appears on our left, heading the wrong way from where he announced his position. Adam takes the plane, puts in full throttle and breaks out of the pattern to the right. Adam politely got on the radio to "help" the other pilot find his bearings as we did a circle turn to give the other pilot a chance to unscrew himself. At worst, we were about 300 yards apart at our closest encounter.

So after another circuit at Dodge County we had back south to Watertown. On the way, another engine failure. I waffle on my selection of landing site, but the routine is getting better. We approach the airport from over the city and enter the upwind for Runway 23. Once again, despite the conditions, I just don't have my act together, and I enter the final high and fast. Adam points out how it all began by not getting configured right prior to the base, which led to an error during base and an error during final. The mistakes piled up and made for a poor landing. One more mental inventory, and the second landing is much better. Time for one more circuit. The sun has set, and conditions are perfect. This one is going to be all mine.

As I climb from the runway, another C172 announces on traffic that he's entering the downwind for Runway 23. No sweat, I look toward my 8 o'clock as I climb on the upwind. No visual. I look again as I turn crosswind; he should be about 9 o'clock. Still nothing. I level off at pattern altitude and reduce power to cruise as I turn to downwind. Now I catch him and announce I have visual contact, but wait. That's a LANDING LIGHT! He's heading straight for us. No sooner do I realize it then I begin turning to the right at the same time Adam is kicking the throttle in and taking the plane. This yokel was on the wrong side of the runway heading in the opposite direction from what he announced. Separation was maybe 200 yards. You could read his tail number. A close call indeed. Adam got on the horn to point out the other pilot's mistake, and once he was satisfied that the other plane was no longer a danger to us, we resumed the pattern and set up for landing. With my wits back together, I brought 02E in for the best landing of the day. We didn't plan for a situational awareness lesson, but we sure did get one, and it turned out to be a positive thing. I reacted correctly to the situation, so that's a feather in my cap.

I didn't want to land tonight. Conditions were so nice and, near misses aside, I was really doing well and improving on each pass. I could have run the tanks dry if it didn't cost so much. I am at the point now where I can think through all of these maneuvers, yet I can't quite string it all together. It's getting better all the time, but incrementally slow. For instance, Adam rarely needs to correct my rudder inputs any longer. Now we're just finessing things as opposed to making big corrections. Calm days work wonders for the confidence. I am more relaxed more often during flight. And yes, that incident resulted in the consumption of a fine lager beer. Next lesson is Thursday, and I can't wait. Join me then!


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