Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Flying Lesson #9

The weather was iffy as I arrived at the airport. Observations in the area were for scattered clouds at 2,500 ft. AGL (above ground level), and a broken cloud layer at 4,000 ft. AGL. That's flyable, but pretty low and in danger of getting worse. The instructor had to cancel a flight earlier in the day due to the weather, so he was predisposed to file an instrument flight plan and let me get some hood time in actual IMC (instrument meteorological conditions). But while we were talking and while he was putting together his flight plan, the sun came out and conditions looked like they would be improving, so we decided to fly VFR (visual flight rules instead of instrument flight rules) and concentrate on "traffic pattern work," meaning that we would do a bunch of touch-and-go landings at the airport.

The last time I did touch-and-goes (see Flying Lesson #3), I was pretty overwhelmed with all the stuff I had to do. This time was a lot easier. Everything seemed less rushed and I was always able to predict what would happen next.

This is the first time I've noticed the scenery around the airport. I usually only see the airport from the air for a few seconds after takeoff and for a minute or so while going in to land. I never really noticed the tall trees around the southern end of the runways, or the radio towers a few miles south. Now I've got a few landmarks picked out that I can use as points of reference when flying the traffic pattern.

We had a pretty strong crosswind, meaning that the wind was blowing across the runway (ideally, you want the wind coming straight down the runway). There are two techniques involved in handling a crosswind landing. First, there is the "crab," where you aim the nose of the plane into the wind, causing you to fly a little sideways in relation to the ground. Second is the "wing low" technique, where you bank the plane's wings toward the wind to prevent drift and use opposite-side rudder to keep you pointed straight down the runway instead of turning. Both of these techniques are needed: you use the crab to line up on the final approach, but then you have to straighten out and go to a wing-low attitude before touchdown because landing sideways would stress the landing gear (and the passengers).

I've got the crab thing down pretty well, but the transition to wing-low is something I need to work on. I'd have a nice stable approach in a crab, then everything would go screwy when I tried to straighten out. I was using too much rudder, and not enough bank. My problems were compounded by the fact that runway 20R at PDK has a large "pit" in front of it that causes a downdraft right at the point where I was starting the transition. In the future, I'll go wing-low a lot sooner so that I have time to stablize.

After five touch-and-goes, and two go-arounds (one by the instructor, one by me) the weather was getting pretty nice, so we headed up to the practice area for some slow-flight practice. I'm getting better at this, but the instructor keeps making it more difficult by making me do more turns and more speed transitions. The big challenge here is that any small change made to pitch attitude or throttle power doesn't have a noticeable effect for several seconds, so I have a tendency to overcontrol instead of waiting to see what the effect is. I am getting better at using visual references (that is, looking outside) instead of chasing the instrument needles while trying to stablize level flight.

While flying back to the airport, a jet passed a few hundred feet below us. This is the third time that a jet has passed a little too close for comfort. It's not really scary - I'm pretty sure the jet pilots know what they're doing - but it's always surprising. That's part of the excitement of training at an airport with a lot of executive jet traffic.

For today: 1.6 hours dual in N4363D with 6 takeoffs and 6 landings. Cost: $294.87.

Next lesson: Friday. I still haven't received my student pilot certificate in the mail, but if I'm lucky I'll get it tomorrow. The instructor will be around for a few more weeks, and I'm hoping I can get to the solo stage before he leaves.

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