Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Personal Breakthrough with Spins

The instructor I've been working with on my Commercial and Instructor training was not available today, so I planned to make this a practice day. Tops on my list of things to work on were spins and slip transitions. I was hoping for good thermalling conditions so I could regain the lift that I planned to lose. If not, I'd do a couple of high tows to get in some good practice. The weather forecasts I use did not agree, and it looked to me like it would be stable with little hope for soaring high. All I could plan on was that it would be HOT. By 10:45 it was already 101F. With few people at the field, I decided to take a flight fairly early and then another one after a lunch break. So I launched with a wing-down takeoff at 12:15 when the dust devils started popping.

I've had spin training with two different instructors (blogged here and here), and I have done a few solo spins in the PW5, but have not done solo spins in the Blanik. Looking back at my blog entries, I said my spins with instructors were not really scary, but that's because the instructor was always there. Before (and between) my first solo spins in the PW5, I was really nervous. But on this flight I really didn't think too much about it. After getting off tow (which included boxing the wake) at 4000' AGL, I cleared the area and went right into the spins, not wanting to waste any altitude.
  1. The first spin entry was amazingly easy and gentle. Not much sensation of the nose dropping, it just felt like turning left and turning down at the same time. Getting established in the spin was easy. I just remember thinking "hold it in... hold it in...". Watching the ground go around seemed perfectly natural, and it was even easy to count my turns. I felt no inclination to get out of the spin, as I had felt with my first solo spins. After a turn and a half, I recovered from the spin with the usual sequence of control inputs, and pulled out nice and smoothly. I remember thinking "Wow - that was really easy." Period - not exclamation point. It was just... easy and natural.

  2. For the second one, I had to cruise a little to get out from over a hill (I'd rather have all the absolute altitude I can get.) Again, the spin entry was really gentle. I counted one and three quarter turns and then recovered. This time I think I waited a bit too long before pulling out of the resulting dive, and I remember seeing 100 knots as I pulled out, which I think was too high, and I felt more G force than before. But again, it was not scary at all, it was - dare I say it? Fun! I think it was on this spin that I looked at the altitude loss, and it was about 300 feet. I remember thinking, "I can now see how people can say they enjoy spins." Before today, I could not say that.

  3. I had enough altitude to do one more. This one went just like the others, easy in and easy out. I remember that it seemed that the speed of the spin varied a little bit, and it seemed to smooth out when I ensured that the rudder was all the way to the stop - maybe I was letting it up a little? This time when I looked at the airspeed after recovering, I was going 70 knots which I thought was much better. I checked the manual just now, and it says the spin recovery speed is 87 knots, so maybe I looked at it after climbing a bit.
What a better experience than my first solo spins back in April! I remember some time ago seeing a book titled "At Home in the Sky". That's become one of my goals: to be at home in the sky, to be totally comfortable with whatever maneuvers I need to do. I think my experience today was a major step toward that goal.

I found no lift, but I had enough altitude left to practice switching from a left forward slip to a right one. This kind of transition may be needed when turning from the downwind leg to the base leg to the final approach, depending on the wind conditions, and I needed the practice. In today's pattern, the wind was from the southwest (across an east-west runway), so I needed right forward slip downwind and on base, and then left slip on final. I worked on keeping my ground track straight and doing a smooth slipping turn to base leg. By the end of the base leg, I had lost enough altitude that I needed to get out of it before turning final and establishing the left slip... I know my instructor had wanted to see a smooth transition from one direction to the other, but if I had done that I would have been too low.

It was so blasted hot that I decided not to fly again in the afternoon. It had been 108F when I took off, and up at 4000' AGL it was probably still 90. The highest temperature reported by AWOS was 111.

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