Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Commercial Practical test flights - whew!

Today I did four flights with instructor X to begin preparing for my Commercial Practical test: a low pattern flight (which was supposed to be a no-surprise rope break except X forgot), a rope break, a high tow, and higher-than-pattern tow. I thought I would be mostly working on showing X the sequence of maneuvers that I described here, but as it turns out, there's a lot more that I need to work on. Some of it was new, some I've done before but not a lot or not for a long time, and some was stuff that I need to do more precisely.

New stuff:
  1. Wing-down takeoffs. X says that I should be prepared to do all my test flights this way, because obviously a lot of paid rides are done that way. I've only done about three of those before - our club instructors weren't teaching them much when I started out. On my first two, my attitude control was not so good. The last two were fine.

  2. Incipient stalls. I've been practicing real stalls, and that's not what they want to see on this test. I need to call out the signs of a stall about to happen, and then prevent the stall.

  3. Full pattern with no drag devices. This was the big surprise. On the Private, they wanted to see slipping to a landing starting with the turn to the base leg, through about half of the final approach. That meant slip on base leg, turning slip to final, and slip on just the early part of final. For Commercial, they want to see no flaps or spoilers all the way from pattern entry. That means, if you enter the pattern at the normal height, slipping all the way down the downwind leg, and down to within 100' of the ground on final. I guess I've never tried to do a slip and maintain a ground track, so slipping all the way through the downwind leg was challenging. I was only using about half the aileron and rudder that I could have been, so X took over and demonstrated it on one flight, and then I did it on the next flight.

    One of the tricky parts is that the direction of the slip may change several times, depending on the wind direction. For example:

    • Wind is from from the left on downwind, so left-wing-down forward slip.
    • Then right-wing-down slip turning right to the base leg.
    • Then forward-slipping whichever direction makes sense on base.
    • Then right-wing-down slip turning right to final.
    • Then right-wing-down slip on final (since direction of the wind has reversed from the downwind leg).

    I screwed that up in a couple of places, because entering a slip has never been natural for me... I always have to think which direction for stick and which for rudder. Switching several times in a row was tough. So now that I know, I'll need to practice this!

  4. Slack line removal - revised! X got a bunch of slack in the towline and handed it over to me to resolve. I did it the way I was taught, and X did not like it a bit. After the second attempt, we discussed it and I found out they've completely changed the way they teach it! I was taught to yaw away from the tow plane, then gently realign just before the slack comes out. I'm really smooth at that - except when an instructor interrupts me in the middle of the maneuver telling me I'm doing it all wrong. Nowadays they say to point the nose directly at the tow plane, and wait for the slack to come out. So... something else to go up and practice.
Stuff that went well:
  1. Accuracy landing
  2. Steep turns
At the outset, X said "I'm going to be nitpicking because that's what the examiner will be doing." I was a bit surprised at stuff I thought I was doing well that I need to clean up:
  1. Rope break. OK, but I should have sped up more before the turn. I was pretty high, and (as mentioned above), getting into a slip to lose height took me a couple of tries. After that, the landing was good.

  2. Boxing the wake. Need to use more rudder and less aileron. I haven't done this with an instructor for a long time, so I guess I've formed some bad habits.

  3. Airbrake check. I didn't pay attention to attitude/airspeed during the check, and got dinged for it. This is a smoothness/comfort thing.

  4. Slow flight including turns. My slow flight has always been fine. But X wanted to see my turns be much shallower than I was doing them.

  5. Entering turns. I sometimes turn first and then adjust my airspeed once the turn is established. I should plan ahead and adjust the speed as I start the turn. Another smoothness/comfort thing.
I knew the tolerances would be tighter, but really had not known there were so many areas where the expectations would be higher. It all makes sense, but it means I'll need to go up and practice all this stuff. And it meant I was working hard, because so little of it was "automatic".

After all that, I helped push planes in and out for others... lifted some Blanik wings onto a trailer... did some maintenance on the Blanik... and spent about an hour teaching a student about the PW5. By the time I left, I was pooped. That's partly 'cuz it was a hot day - 92F in the shade when I left at 4:00!

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