Saturday, January 28, 2006

Check ride and next goal

Our club has a rule that in order to use the club gliders, each private pilot has to have a check ride with an instructor in the first two months of each year. This is my first time for that check ride. Not a big deal - we fly with instructors occasionally anyway. But I had not flown ANYTHING since mid-November, and had not flown a Blanik since August. So it had the potential to show off my rustiness.

Actually, it went fine. Smooth takeoff, boxed the wake, let off at 3000'. Three stalls, then some straight flight and turns at minimum control speed. Then some 720 and 360 turns at normal speed. No big deal. CFI complimented me on my very smooth flying. No big lift today, either, but we did find some zero sink and 100' lift, so I was able to get about 20 minutes out of the flight, even after losing altitude with stalls and inefficient Vmc flight.

Since the runway was empty, CFI suggested I land there. For some of you, maybe that isn't anything to write home about, but at our field the FBO strongly encourages everyone to land in the dirt and focus on spot landings. As a result, I've only landed on asphalt about 5 times out of 136 flights. On downwind and base, we could see that the wind was switching around quite a bit. (There was a tractor raising a dust cloud, and it was very obviously changing directions - a terrific indicator.) But my approach was very straight, my float perfect, the touchdown smooth, and the rollout straight and short and I stopped with wings level. Probably one of my best landings ever. The guys who came out to help push me back said it was a "9.5".

So it was a good flight and now I'm not rusty. I think my next short-term goal will be some simulated cross-country flight, once the lift starts picking up. Both the Wander cross-country book I'm using, and the ground school I'm in, suggest a triangular course in the neighborhood of the airport. Three 17-mile legs gives about a 50-mile circuit, while staying within gliding range (10 miles) of the home base. I want to work on a flight profile to work out the altitudes, and preview the course and turnpoints in Google Earth, and then give it a shot. At typical speeds, it should be somewhat over an hour, so I can work it out with the usual hour-long slot for use of the club ship. I've flown that long, but never in any particular direction, usually just browsing around for lift. This course will make me look for lift in the right directions and plan ahead about where I am going.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Year in review

This week was my one-year anniversary of achieving my Private Pilot - Glider rating. This week I also started participating in a 6-week Cross-County/Bronze Badge workshop that my club is holding. That got me to thinking about accomplishments.

I had not actively worked on the A, B, C, or Bronze badges until now. I'm not really motivated by badges, although I see their value and will probably be proud of them when I get them. I have been more focused on working toward the legal requirements (presolo and PPG tests), and working toward independence (solo flight, taking passengers, progressing to single-seat, progressing to high performance, ability to rent and fly ships in remote locations). My next step is cross-country, and the Bronze Badge program is designed to prepare one for XC. So by completing that badge I should be able to get approval to fly club ships cross-country. The C is a prereq to the Bronze, so I need to do that first. I have accomplished all the C requirements except maybe one.

So what did I accomplish in the first year of having my PPG?
  • Checked out in PW5 single-seat fiberglass ship
  • Checked out in Grob 103 two-seat fiberglass ship
  • Took 5 passengers for rides in Blanik and Grob (and only made one sick)
  • Rented a Grob 103 and flew in Florida
  • Learned to land a high-performance ship on a narrow, sloped asphalt runway
  • Received spin training in the Blanik
  • Took an aerobatic ride in a biplane (not soaring, but aviation!)
  • Acquired a PDA-based GPS system and began learning to use it
  • Flew with seagulls
  • Flew with hawks
  • Only accumulated 8 hours as PIC. Only achieved a 1:07 maximum duration flight. (It seems to me that soaring conditions at Hemet were much weaker in 2005 than 2004 - at least on the days I flew.)

To check on duration requirements etc. for the C and Bronze, I entered my logbook into a spreadsheet. I found that due to some math errors early on, I had missed 1.5 hours in my total. So now I'm at 41:15.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Landing checklist

A recent thread on rec.aviation.soaring talked about landing checklists: what they include, mnemonics, etc. Some people said checklists are useless because they cover "basic airmanship" and one should not need to be reminded to do these steps. Others seemed to question the value of performing them during the pattern, thinking they should all be done beforehand. Here's a variation on what I posted:

I use the mnemonic FUSTALL:
  • F - Flaps
  • U - Undercarriage
  • S - Speeds
  • T - Trim Set
  • A - Airbrakes / Spoilers
  • L - Lookout
  • L - Land

For those that thought these points are too obvious, here's an explanation of what I think when going through some of these steps:

  • Flaps - Decide, based on altitude at pattern entry, whether I think I will need flaps to help add drag and bring me down. If I'm low, don't use them. If I'm high, decide on half or full flaps. Then set them and leave them (unless I get drastically low later.)
  • Undercarriage - Don't just move the handle, LOOK at it to see if the wheel is down or up.
  • Speed - It's a reminder to select a pattern and landing speed based on conditions as you enter the pattern. THAT's a reminder to check the wind sock or other cues to wind direction and speed. And a reminder to look at the whole pattern to see if you need to adjust your speed to blend in with otheraircraft.
  • Trim - Maybe I use trim less than others, but if I'm going in and out of thermals for short periods, hunting, etc., I don't trim all that often. This is a reminder to set the trim after selecting the pattern speed.
  • Lookout - not just in the air around your aircraft, but at the landing fieldand runway so you can plan whether to land left, right, short, long...
  • Land - yes, it's obvious, but it triggers me to think about alignment with/distance from the runway, how long my downwind will likely be, speed in base and final turns, look at my starting altitude and think about spoilers and perhaps slipping, remember wind gradient. In other words, focus my mind on all those things that make landing different from cruising and thermaling.
Maybe after thousands of hours, one doesn't need these reminders. For those of us new to the game (I'm coming up on one year since getting my PPG), theyare important reminders to build good habits.

For those who earlier questioned WHEN to do the checklist, before or during the pattern, here's my usual sequence:
  • FUST - during the 45-degree leg. Speed and Trim are as I'm nearing the end of the 45, getting ready to turn downwind, 'cuz that's about the time I can finally make out the wind sock.
  • ALL - Airbrakes on downwind. Lookout on downwind, 'cuz then I'm adjacent to the runway. This way there's plenty of time to do all the steps - no rush. It sets me up for a relaxed downwind leg.