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.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Return to Flight

KRYV 231516Z AUTO 07004KT 10SM CLR M05/M09 A3044 RMK AO2

For the first time since earning my certificate last month, I finally had the opportunity to go back in the air. It was also the first time I could experience the pleasure of not having to need an endorsement to fly, or to ask an instructor if the weather was acceptable. It was my decision, 100%. And that feels pretty damn good.

I also used this as the opportunity to fly a new plane for the first time. Well, new to me, anyway. It is a model year 1978 Cessna 152, tail number N68954, one of three of the type that Wisconsin Aviation has for rent at Watertown Municipal. The 152 gives me a lot of flexibility in flying, since there are three, one is always available, and they are $14 per hour cheaper. That means more bang for the buck, and since most flying will still be of a practice nature, there's no need to worry about carrying other folks. There is also a Piper Archer and a Piper Arrow at Watertown that I will get checked out in, for those occasions when I want to take the whole family somewhere. But most of my flying will be solo work, so why take more plane than the mission dictates?

I had purchased a copy of the Pilot Operations Handbook last week to become familiar with the numbers. Generally, the key "V" speeds were 5 knots less than what I was used to on the C172, so that's an easy adjustment. The other notable difference was that the fuel tanks are of the cross-feed type, whereas the C172 tanks are not. Which means that the fuel cutoff lever on the C152 has two positions: on and off. The C172 fuel cutoff has four positions: both, left, right, and off.

The morning was crisp and clear, deceiving in advance of the major winter snowstorm due through here this weekend. Conditions were excellent. I took extra time during preflight to calculate weight and balance, to examine the panel and, most importantly, to start running my mental checklists. It strikes you quickly how small the cockpit is in the C152. The two seats are butted right together, and there are no rear seats, just a baggage area. Niner-five-four is not the prettiest pig in the pen, having endured close to 12,000 hours on the airframe during it's long career. The interior plastic is cracked in many places, and the instruments show the yellow patina of age. There is only one communications and one navigations radio, and no Automatic Direction Finder (ADF). But aside from the tachometer located on the right side of the panel, the instrument arrangement was nearly the same.

As I belted into my seat, I realized how smart I was to choose the larger C172 as my training plane. Two normal size adults would be quite friendly in these cramped quarters. Now imagine an instructor in the right seat articulating and gesturing while the poor student in the left seat is trying to fly. Cozy indeed.

Startup was quick and easy. With only one radio, I had to switch back and forth between the CTAF and ASOS (weather) frequencies instead of taking the lazy guy's way out. Did I already mention how nice I had it in Zero Two Echo? But after a few extra minutes doing instruments scans (and some relaxed breathing) I taxied the plane out to Runway 5 for takeoff. Runup checks complete, pattern empty, and I positioned for takeoff. This was my second most nervous part of the flight. I haven't flown in over a month, and rust is not an excuse for a damaged plane. So all during taxi I was playing the mental takeoff checklist. Power to 2000 rpm, check oil pressure, power to full, release brakes. Right rudder as necessary, speed to 45 kts, rotate, liftoff at 50. Lower nose to gain speed, pitch up at climb speed. Crab into wind and climb out on runway heading. And I was in the air, keeping an eye open for landing places in case the engine failed.

I climbed to 3000' and headed for my favorite maneuver area, about 8 miles north of the airport. My plan was to get better familiarized with the plane by simulating some landings. Starting at 3000', I picked a road to represent a runway threshold, and I initiated the downwind leg to that point. The "runway" would actually be an imaginary floor at 2000'. I reduced power, dropped flaps, and flew base and final legs just like I was approaching a real runway. When I crossed the threshold, I reduced power and held my altitude as the plane slowed and flared. When she stalled, I performed stall recovery and otherwise initiated a climb out just like at the airport. I also wanted to do some steep turn practice, but I was running short on time, so I headed back to the airport. Conditions at Runway 5 were very nice. A slight crosswind to keep things honest. Zero Two Echo happened to be in the pattern as I approached, so I took that as an opportunity to practice some pattern separation. I flew a couple of circles just to the south of the downwind entry point and waited for Zero Two Echo to turn base, then I would enter downwind. In the analysis, one turn would have sufficed, and I could have reduced speed while in the pattern to increase the separation. But that was some opportunistic practice that I needed to do anyway.

As I reduced power at the numbers and began my descent, I could already tell that the smaller plane liked to fly tight patterns. When I turned for final and added the remainder of flaps, I was at the right altitude but close to the runway. So I was high, and at 70kts I was 10 faster than I should have been. So I just reduced power, almost to idle, and let the plane glide in. Crossing the threshold I pulled all power out, and the plane settled down. But I was a little high and flared early. It's always an uncomfortable feeling when you've pulled power and the plane could stall at any time, and there's still 4 feet between you and the runway. But hours of experience taught me to put in just a quick burst of power to keep from stalling while I eased her down. The landing itself was a bit bumpy because I had started moving laterally off the centerline, but I was down. I cleaned up and took her up again.

Second time, still high on final, but I reduced power and glided in. I crossed the threshold right at 60 kts and reduced power. I waited just a couple of seconds longer before flaring, and I was at just the right height as the nose rose and the stall horn came on just as the wheels touched down. A very nice landing. One more time around and the results were close to the same. So I got my 3 landings in, and it was time to taxi to the ramp. Total time: one hour.

So now I am familiarized with the Cessna 152. Next time out I think I'll take up a passenger. Jason has been eager to go up with me ever since I started training. It's time to perhaps instill some of the passion of flying in him.


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