Sunday, July 8, 2018

N616SF 4.0 Liam mountain checkout

I signed up for a mountain checkout at my FBO. They signed me up with a new-to-me CFI and a C172RG "Cutlass". I was to show up at 8am on Sunday, bright eyed and bushy tailed.

I got the POH for the aircraft, and visited it once to see what it looked like. I was thinking of doing a full VFR flight plan but I was pretty busy yesterday. Anyway, much of the training is about planning so that was not an issue.

We spoke a lot about the various effects we need to worry about in mountain flying, including optical illusions and weather, but the most important of course was aircraft performance. We wrote down the book numbers for KRHV, KPVF (Placerville) and KTRK (Truckee).

We then departed on a KRHV KPVF KTRK KRHV flight.

Much of the work of the flight was about getting used to the complex airplane, and learning how to mess with mixture / prop / throttle controls and control manifold pressure and RPM rather than just having a simple "gas pedal" to shove.

The CFI taught me to set the pitch to a known quantity, then accept the performance the airplane gives me. This is to avoid chasing a climb rate and ending up in a stall, or worse. This is great advice -- I would only add that a more ideal metric would be, not pitch, but rather AoA. But in the absence of a reliable AoA gage, this will do.

For our landing in KPVF, I made the standard mistake of coming in too high because of the angle of the runway and the fact that it's on a plateau. One newbie illusion confirmed. :) We taxied back and took off right away. That was uneventful.

We then flew to KTRK, in the process going over a bunch of ridge lines that I swore up and down we would never make it over. Then we descended and landed, in some rather nasty turbulence, but overall without too much fuss. I was expecting a scary feeling of careening down the runway (high density altitude means high true airspeed, right?) but for the most part that was not a thing.

We shut down at KTRK, gawked at the zillion-dollar jets, tried to go to the cafe and failed (it was closed), then got back in and got ready to depart.

The rotation was really the most important lesson. It took all of 5 seconds, but it was interesting. I am used to rotating and getting this burst of speed and a leap into the air, from which vantage point I can correct my heading for the prevailing crosswind and get going. Instead, the airplane wheezed into the air and I was caught drifting off to the side, dangerously close to the taxi lights. At that low height, I felt like I didn't want to bank too much, but there we were. My CFI was on the controls with me and we got fixed up, but it was really eye-opening.

We circled once around KTRK for climb, during which we went from +1,000 FPM to zero to (my CFI noticed, I did not) about -200 FPM. Finally we had enough power to get over the ridges and we made an uneventful return to KRHV.

In the process, my CFI taught me a bit more about the ethos of flying for performance and range, not just "managing to get into the air". For example, he had me reduce my altitude and get less of a headwind, and we ended up getting back faster. Very nifty.

Overall I'd say the main lessons are:

1. Plan plan plan plan plan, then plan some more. Leave nothing to chance.

2. Take baby steps starting from airports like O22 (Columbia) and expand my envelope slowly.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

N188EV 0.9 Short practice flight

I'm taking a week's "staycation" so I decided to take another short practice flight and try some more maneuvers to say current.

I took off on a slightly but not horribly windy day. It was wicked hot out. I was baking under that canopy. But once in the air, things seemed okay.

I set myself up to fly alternately 4,500' and 5,500' (VFR cruising altitudes) up and down the area from VPUTC to Coyote Lake, watching for traffic, staying away from the flight path of the commercial heavies coming into KSJC, and monitoring Norcal on 120.1. All looked good.

At some point I pushed full power at 4,500' and -- lo and behold -- the engine would not reach its full RPM. Now in hindsight of course I know this was due to the density altitude, but at that moment for some reason my brain told me that my engine was not making full power and I needed to high-tail it to my airport.

I was quite high over VPUTC at that point, and so I maintained altitude to a straight-in Rwy 31 Right. Once I felt I had the field made, I cut power and slipped in. I tried to go a little bit further than usual because the ATIS was reporting about 14 knots down the runway. Unfortunately, I had too much energy and was going to overshoot. Experience points. Next time be aware of this sight picture and remember, "too much energy".

There were not too many people around so tower gave me 31L or 31R at my option. I asked to make an abbreviated pattern and was told I could maneuver as needed. I did a 360 over the field and came in for an uneventful landing. However, during the 360, I needed power to make a nice wide-open pattern. Again experience points: Next time, if you are going to do this maneuver, judge early if you need to do a 360 rather than figure it out at the last minute.

I could probably have made a tighter 360 and landed without power, but at that point I had power -- I was not in an emergency -- so there was no reason to do anything excessively weird. I was still near a reasonable pattern altitude and so I chose not to do any heroics.

All in all, this was an interesting experience of actually being a little bit scared in the airplane, and seeing how I reacted. I have a book about Engine Out Survival Tactics, and I read it through and it recommends learning your airplane's glide performance and rehearsing a specific maneuver, including target altitudes AGL at various points. I can see now how this would have been really useful. I'm motivated to practice this more (within the bounds of safety -- no sense creating an emergency just to practice emergencies...).

And about failing to realize that my engine does not make full RPM at 4,500' on a hot day? I feel very dumb.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

N188EV 1.6 Short practice and intro trip with Bobby

I went for another short practice flight with the son of some friends of ours -- he is 12 years old and is quite talented with anything vehicle related. For example, he just hopped onto my wife's Tour Easy recumbent bike and started riding around as though there were nothing to it.

We flew from KRHV South down to Coyote Lake at 3500', then got the ATIS from E16 and decided not to land there. We dipped down to 2500' and crossed the Coyote Valley. We saw it was foggy around the coast so we turned round and came back the way we came, climbing again over Coyote Lake. We then called in and made a straight-in into KRHV again.

The E16 ATIS was reporting, if I recall correctly, 14G16. Not horrible, but it was a slightly bumpy day and I didn't want to make harrowing bumpy approaches that test my comfort level while I had a brand-new pax with me. I would be distracted, and there would be too much mental pressure to "succeed" rather than back off if I didn't like things. So I decided to just fly today.

I demonstrated some maneuvers to Bobby, like why we have a rudder and what a steep turn looks like, and he seemed excited about it. I told him (and his parents) to get an intro lesson with a CFI so he could get the experience of actually being on the controls.

For our landing, I was at 3,500' and was given a straight-in. As usual, I tried to teach myself how to glide in. I judged where I could cut my power then did so and tried to maintain VG (59 kias) and remain perfectly coordinated. I ended up not having enough energy, and that doesn't surprise me -- we had about a 14 or so knot wind blowing down the runway. So let that be a lesson to me about my glide performance with a headwind. :) I added power and came in on a fairly normal approach path for the last bit.

Friday, May 18, 2018

N712MF 1.5 Short practice flight

I've been very busy with my work on (including data gathering flights with other folks) so -- ironically -- I've been too deeply embedded in the flying world to fly solo. Well that needs fixing. I went out solo today to just get some practice.

It was eventful.

First was the springus problem. The Rotax has two springs that go from the carbs to the rubber doohickeys that attach the manifold pressure equalization tube to the intake manifolds. It's not clear why they are there. But one was loose. The mechanics came over, said yeah, we have no idea why this thing is here either, but if it's there it oughta be on properly, and tightened the thing.

Next came the taxi debacle. KRHV is being resurfaced, so it was all orange cones and weird taxi instructions. At some point I ended up "lost" and asked for progressive instructions and was making U-turns all around the ramp. They were patient.

After that was the carb heat mystery. I added carb heat on runup but nothing happened, and the knob seemed surprisingly smooth. I taxied back and popped the cowl and the little mechanical things were indeed mechanicking, and the mechanics told me that if that's going on, then it's working. So I guess I just had a very low carb heat RPM drop day.

Off I launched. It was blowing 13 knots down the runway, so not much crosswind but bumpy. I bumped off to E16 and tried a landing, which went okay but was scary due to the bumps. I tried another one and decided to say screw it and go around.

I then came back to KRHV and had an uneventful landing.

All in all, my feeling is that I have allowed myself to get a bit rusty and therefore need quite a bit more serious training to get comfortable again.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

N188EV 1.6 Chickening out with Aden

Our FBO recently updated their rental rules such that we can land at up to 3,000' density altitude without a mountain checkout. I have been always wanting to go to Columbia (O22), which is just over 2,000' MSL, and previously out of reach without the checkout. So I decided today was the day to try and go.

We took off uneventfully into pretty icky turbulence, bumpety bumping along through the mountain passes out to the Altamont Pass and towards Stockton. Even in the Central Valley, it was really bumpy. The ceiling was somewhere around 4,500 scattered to broken, with lots of flat-bottomed clouds and lots of bumps underneath them.

I decided to chicken out, and we turned back and bumped back to KRHV, where we bumped up and down through the pattern. I selected 15 degrees of flaps and kept my speed up through the approach, and ended up making a pretty soft landing.

Once on the ground, I chatted with the local CFIs and got some words of wisdom.

1. What I was experiencing was mountain waves, not thermals. The flat bottomed clouds were that way for the same reasons that they look that way when they are due to thermals.

2. Everybody else was getting beaten around today.

3. The bumps in the SportStar were certainly way more severe than I would have experienced were I in a C172 or similar.

4. That said, it was not an unsafe day to fly; I could probably have continued up to Columbia to take a peek from a safe distance, had I wanted to keep bumpety-bumping along.

5. That said, there's no way a landing at Columbia would have been advisable.

It's good that I got out there with the assumption that I was going to abort if stuff didn't feel right at any point. Also thanks to my pax Aden for being cool about it and not pressuring for mission completion!