Thursday, December 26, 2013

N94565 1.4 Alice

Preflight briefing about slow flight, rectangular pattern, entry procedure into final approach.

Right Dumbarton to Leslie Salt. Rectangular pattern work over the salt flats. Climbed over the mountains to San Antonio Reservoir. Slow flight. One simulated engine-out approach (circling to land). Returned via KGO towers for one go-around and one landing.

During preflight, Alice had lots of details about speeds for landing approach in different phases, etc. I told Alice about how I really want more "feel". Alice said, oh, I figured you were the kind of person who liked precision! Goes to show me, I guess -- never assume!

I also asked for more tips on the how rather than the what. In other words, rather than telling me that my altitude is off, tell me how I should be doing better at keeping it. I also mentioned that I would like to work on the "first derivative first" -- once I can control the rate of deviation from setpoint, I can move towards controlling the actual setpoint. Alice agreed.

I also mentioned to Alice how I had a Ford Festiva many years ago that had a huge amount of torque steer (probably because of unequal driveshaft lengths, and overall cheapy quality), so I learned to hang to one side when accelerating. Not too different from correcting for torque, P-factor, etc. on an airplane!

Alice did all the radio work at my request.

Taxi and runup were better than before. I need to learn to use the brakes symmetrically. Alice mentioned that I should stop for runup with the nosewheel lined up straight ahead, so as not to impose side stresses on the wheel. We had to shove forward a foot or so to correct that.

Takeoff was uneventful. I'm still so tied up in the whole thing that I'm probably up at 50 feet or so before I remember to notice that I'm flying. But once I realized that, and given that I had reviewed the V speeds -- and also convinced myself that VS1 is a long way away so I need not death-grip the yoke on takeoff -- I was able to enjoy myself much more.

On the turn to crosswind, it helped that Alice and I had agreed beforehand about where to do it. Alice taught me the technique of 90 degree turns by marking a faraway object off the wing, then turning (and in the Cessna, the wing obscures where I'm going), then straightening out when I'm pointed at the object.

Rectangular patterns were sloppy and there was no wind (at least, not enough for my ham-fisted n00b discernment) so I did not see its effect. It was difficult to maintain consistent radius of turn, bank angle, distance from the landmarks, etc.

Cruise to practice area uneventful. I still need to learn more about how to "manage" the airplane in cruise mode -- I can of course putter along without killing anything, but there is not a lot of finesse yet.

Slow flight: Learned to maintain heading and felt the P-factor yaw. Still cannot really "feel" where I go on the back side of the power curve, though by the time I'm near VS0 I certainly know I need it (or else I am sinking). Turns during slow flight were uneventful though I tended to bank too much. Still don't have the proper "feel" for the adverse yaw -- there's just so much wallowing going on and it's hard to isolate the individual effects of each part.

At some point, during recovery from a turn, some messed-up part of my cerebellum told me to "dance" on the rudder pedals as though I were tossing a ball from hand to hand. I need to stop that asap. This habit crashed an Airbus.

Simulated emergency approach was uneventful and unsurprising given my (albeit brief) time in a Blanik glider a while ago. Choose a field, circle, line up. We seemed to come in a little low -- not sure if it was my perception or we actually would have hit a berm.

Cruise back to PAO uneventful.

Landing was much better this time. I stopped looking at the waggenneedles and blinkenlights and just aimed the plane at the numbers, then pulled up in the obvious way when it looked like we were about to fly into 'em. This worked fairly well.

Taxi back was improved -- much more stable. Teaching myself to go in a straight line, and then try to maintain the actual centerline, is helpful. I also did the exercises of moving the yoke left and right while taxiing ("it's not a car steering wheel") and it seems like my feet and hands are actually more or less properly de-coupled now. At least while I'm relaxed and thinking about it. :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Musings on training

I have a mechanical engineering degree; my dad is an aeronautical engineer, and I have been interested in airplanes since I was 3 years old. I have flown with friends and lurked on aviation mailing lists for decades. I have built a riveted aluminum bicycle (here, here) just for the chance to practice airframe construction techniques. And I come to aviation at the age of 46, not because it's the most convenient thing for me to do, but because I'm scared of getting too old and I've already had a brush with thyroid cancer that reminded me of my own mortality. I have already taken the FAA written test with a score of 98%.

So what I'm trying to say is that I bring baggage, expectations and ego to this process.

One of my frustrations with training with Alice last time was that I was overwhelmed with way too many things to keep track of, and I didn't feel like I was learning anything. Perhaps I like to have a bit of a feeling of control over my surroundings? Whatever the case, it's clear that a training program for me may be distinct from one for someone else.

At the same time, I was also clearly expecting to have far more facility than I actually did. I failed to use a checklist on startup. Alice let me dig myself in and I failed to yell CLEAR and failed to use brakes; the plane dragged forward and Alice stepped on the brakes for me. (How is that possible? I'm so good with checklists when flying right seat with others.) I taxied slowly on purpose, but Alice said I could (should? that's always the confusion) taxi a bit faster; I tried that, and ended up wallowing badly. I thought I could do the radio calls, but ended up failing miserably and ended up asking Alice to take over. (How could that happen when I've spent hours at KPAO listening to the radio and following inbound and outbound flights?)

Alice said I needed to learn how the controls interact, how changing one thing makes the other thing change. Well duh! That's exactly why I am so tentative on the throttle on the takeoff run, because I expect this big nasty propeller, without any speed and so without any rudder authority to speak of, will wheel me over into the weeds on the left before I can react and make a mess of my day! I'm all too aware of the various and sundry couplings! I just want some experience with one thing at a time so I can learn to control them!

Yesterday, I was watching a video of someone doing a startup and takeoff in a C152 and the strongest emotion I had was fear (as in, performance anxiety)!

I believe what I most need right now is slow flight experience. I would like to be able to practice first without flaps, then add the flaps later. The minimal level of complexity is to manipulate the throttle and elevator (and balance out the rest of the controls) and apply carb heat below the green RPM arc. Everything else is optional.

I would also like to practice in a manner where I control the first derivative, then the setpoint. In other words, if I am trying to maintain altitude, my first attempt should be while trying only to arrest any climb or descent. Wherever I end up, I don't try to go back to the original altitude; I just take where I am as my new point and try to stay there. The reason is that, while starting out, my deviations are large, and so by the time all is said and done, returning from where I am back to my chosen altitude is itself a maneuver and should be avoided.

The next step, after being able to hold the rate at zero, is to practice making small corrections to return to setpoint.

So I would probably want to do:
  • Transition from cruise to slow flight (almost stalled) and back, smoothly, feeding in or retarding throttle as needed, around target altitude, become familiar with reversed control (back side of power curve);
  • Level change at various speeds;
  • Now do the same thing while adding flaps into the mix.
Not to forget lateral maneuvering, I would also want to do:
  • Level turns at a given (cruise) speed and throttle setting; 
  • Coordination exercises (Dutch rolling back and forth while keeping the nose straight).
If I can get these right, then I can do:
  • Level turns at various speeds, including slow flight with flaps;
  • Glideslope adjustment during landing.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

N94565 1.4 Alice

N94565 1982 Cessna 152 II at Sundance Flying Club at KPAO (where I anticipate doing all my training).

I am trying to take lessons maybe every 1 or 2 weeks while I bide my time waiting for my Special Issuance Class 3 Medical. Given my current situation, under even the most ideal circumstances, I would be surprised if my Medical were issued before April Fools' Day 2014.

Left Dumbarton to coast, return via Woodside, 2 touch and goes and one landing.

Difficult to maintain attitude, speed, etc. Alice[*] spends a lot of "talk" time discussing various details (how to maintain heading via landmarks, VOR navigation, etc.) which sometimes makes it hard to focus on the fundamentals. I have not yet decided whether this is a good thing, in that I'm just given everything all at once and learn faster, or a detriment to learning for me.

Was able to make at least 1 turn without too much altitude change; I was able to do that when I cleared my head.

Problems maintaining coordination. Alice taught me to look for drift of the nose (if your wings are level and you are not coordinated, your heading will be changing -- duh, after all this reading about airplanes and it never occurred to me!). Hard to see with the nose so high, but I need to learn to look for this.

Landings were not as bad as I feared; the main thing I'm going to have to learn is how not to over-control and the fact that control inputs have "momentum" -- if I'm going towards some setpoint (like the glideslope or a speed or whatever), if I keep doing the same thing, I'll blow through it. I am using the VASI to set my glideslope, and Alice is reinforcing this, but somehow I feel like I should be using ... um ... feel?

I'm having trouble coordinating with the rudder -- I end up using too much while starting the turn. Alice says lead with a little bit of rudder, then use the ailerons. Need to practice this (maybe also do the coordination exercises that I did with another instructor a while ago?).

Another thing may be that we started flying around 11am, by the time everything was good and taken care of, and I was probably already hungry and thirsty. I need to make sure I'm in tip-top shape.

For the future, I'm going to need to work on things one at a time. Alice seems to agree with me and gave me some reading homework for the next flight and plans for more "exercises".

Another thing is that Alice says I should fly "by the numbers": Set certain criteria (e.g. power, trimmed speed, etc.) and get predictable performance. I wonder if this is a personal preference thing. A lot of flight instruction literature keeps talking about developing "feel" for how things happen, then the instructors always spend a whole bunch of time talking about numbers: Set 1700 rpm, climb at 60 kias, maintain heading 110, etc. I guess I would have expected less numbers and more -- well -- feel?

Alice emphasized checklists -- the idea being that it's probably easy to remember to do things in a C152, but as one goes to more complex aircraft, it's going to be more important. I get that. I just don't have an easily accessible physical format for the checklists, and space in the cockpit is already cramped enough. Alice mentioned these but I wonder if there's something better that can be more easily flipped. Maybe the width of each page would be just 1/2 the width of my kneeboard, and I could flip them across without having pages hanging around.

* - I will use pseudonyms for my flight instructors. Alice is the first one I had serious instruction with, today. I'll assign subsequent ones names of Bob, Carol, ... as needed.