Thursday, November 27, 2014

N162HG 1.6 Solo

Thanksgiving morning -- went out to practice short-field takeoffs and landings, all closed traffic.

The CFI who looked at my paperwork reminded me that my solo limitations specify visibility ≥ 6 sm, and KPAO was reporting 7 sm. I should pay more attention to visibility next time. I guess I never thought it could be non-obvious, but now I know. On my bike ride to the airport, everything looked hunky dory, but sure enough, looking across the SF Bay, the mountains were pretty obscured. Once in the air, I would have trouble seeing the KNUQ hangars just after turning Rwy 31 downwind.

There were stratiform clouds (reporting SCT200) and no wind. That and the poor visibility would indicate a temperature inversion in the area. I looked at the prog charts and could not figure out why that would be the case or what sort of phenomenon I was observing. More learning about Wx in my future.

Leveling off at 800' in the pattern got better. I realized two things: (a) look out the window and trust the sight picture and things will be mostly fine [how many times do I have to re-realize this again...?]; and (b) firmly establish attitude, controlling by hand through the entire leveling-out maneuver if necessary, then and only then worry about trimming. Overall, I am far more satisfied with how I captured and maintained altitude, though I certainly could do far better.

I did 11 landings in total.

The takeoffs were uneventful. I could not bring myself to climb at 55 kias so I figured I would climb at 60 kias and consider discretion the better part of valor. I tried to become aware of where I actually took off. Based on what I saw and looking at the airport diagram, I suspect I was lifting off about 600' down the runway from my brake letoff point. The POH lists 640' ground roll at gross, 15°C (interpolated). I had about half fuel and myself, and my flight bag which weighs nothing -- but the POH does not tell us how to correct for weight.

The landings were all over the map at first. As I went along, I settled on a technique. I would come in high until a point where I figured an idle glideslope would take me just short of the runway threshold, then dump in my last notch of flaps and maintain 50/-0/+5 kias. What kept happening was that I flared, flared and flared some more ... but had I started that flare earlier, I would have been buzzing the duck pond. Something does not make sense.

I had a bunch of landings where I ended up landing long and others where I made it off before taxiway Bravo. I am not (yet) very aware of the point at which I actually touch down.

I had one landing where tower asked me to expedite my base turn, so I had to slip a lot to burn altitude. It did not result in my best short-field landing of the day, but it was good practice in being able to adapt my technique at short notice to the prevailing needs, and I landed safely with no problem.

At some point, the visibility seemed particularly bad, so I asked tower to say visibility, and they estimated 4.9 sm. I terminated. They asked me if I was seeing less than they reported -- I said no, its just below my solo limitations.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

N162HG 1.4 Solo

Since I have not flown for a while, I decided to depart and do air work first before coming back in for landing practice.

Departed Left Dumbarton towards the coast, then practiced climbing and descending between 2500' and 3500', leveling out each time, while in a 20 degree turn. Did several of these while turning either way (left and right). The goal was to try to address my general anxiety about leveling out while turning, which is a problem in the KPAO pattern (and, I imagine, potentially elsewhere) since I always end up needing to level out just as I am turning downwind after takeoff.

I did okay, though the one critique I have of myself is that I allowed myself to fixate too much on the altimeter -- I should do a better job of keeping my eyes outside and on the nose.

The whole exercise was basically one big clearing turn, and I did a clearing turn before the clearing turns. :) Yet at some point, a plane that was far away over the water suddenly appeared at what seemed like 1000' or so below me, scudding directly underneath. I was startled and wondered why they chose that flight path. I would think that, passing underneath, they lose sight of me at some point, which would be bad, right? Wouldn't they want to keep me in sight all the time? As for me, I was keeping my eyes skinned as best I could, looking above and below me. I think what happened was that, as I turned, they must have snuck in from behind me.

I am not sure if this warrants concern as a loss of separation, but it is certainly something I did not want to be surprised by.

On the way and back, I practiced being aware of the terrain underneath me and looking for possible forced landing fields.

Returned to KPAO and did 3 landings, practicing short field technique, which were uneventful. There was practically no crosswind. In all cases I was able to comfortably slow down and turn off Rwy 31 at taxiway Bravo. In one case I slid a tire very briefly, but that was my mistake and was not necessary for slowing down. My speed control was a bit sloppy; I was trying to shoot for the recommended 50/+5/-0 kias, but I saw 47 and 48 momentarily. I need to be careful about this if I am to continue practicing short field while solo.

Altitude control in the pattern was passable -- the exercises actually did help -- but I lost altitude station when I was told to look for and follow some traffic, and I had to scan around and worry about where they were.

Overall, this was a good flight. I enjoyed myself. Also, I felt like, technique aside, I was "driving the plane" successfully, just like I "drove the car" in my early days of driver ed. If someone told me to get from A to B in my Flycatcher, I can pull it off. I guess the stuff I'm now trying to learn, like short and soft field T/O and landings, are a bit like merging onto a fast, busy highway -- that would have scared the sh*t out of me in my early driving days.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

N162HG 0.9 Solo

The 14:00 reservation was canceled so I had the plane as long as I liked.

Good thing, too. I asked by the by whether we have to check in with a club CFI for every solo, not just an XC. I had thought that was the case, but then on my first "alone" solo the CFI there told me no, you only check in for XCs. Well it turns out I have to check in for all solos after all. Apparently an insurance requirement. One dude looked at my stuff and declared me good to go. He looked at my student certificate and snickered, "no medical!" Later he seemed sympathetic. Not sure what was on his mind, but whatever. It took a while to hunt down a CFI. Next time I'll know and be more proactive to snag the nearest one I see and not let them go until they give me a go-ahead.

Went out for 0.9 of closed traffic, with a very light right crosswind.

I had a departing aircraft on upwind, but being newly cautious, I asked to make sure I was not supposed to follow them.

My altitude station keeping was quite a bit better -- mainly as a result of, um, bothering to remember to do it.

Approaches were different every time, due to traffic. I managed to end up stable on short final in all cases, and as before, I am getting to more flares and less slam-dunks. I was able to exit on Bravo on several landings, rather than skittering down like a fool while everyone patiently waited for me to make up my mind to get done. Bravo! :P

My final approach speed is still in the range of 51 - 59 knots, not the 55 -0 +5 that I'd like it to be. I am safe, but I would like to somehow get into the habit of thinking of my approach speed as a "floor" not to go below rather than wavering up and down around it.

A couple times, I was slung out on a long downwind, I maintained cruise speed. Then, when I turned base and final, I had overshot the runway and needed to do a teardrop to come back to runway centerline. I "rescued" the situation fine, but my goal is not to have to do that. With parallel runways, that would be a disaster. So mental note to self => whipping around base to final at cruise with only 20 degrees of bank, you're going to overshoot. More than 20 degrees of bank and you're being a reckless nut. Solution: Slow the frack down first.

Forgot how many landings I did (later, video showed I did 5). Next time maybe make a small pencil mark every time?

Friday, November 7, 2014

N162HG 1.3 Solo

Solo closed pattern after a bit of a flying hiatus due to work and family stress.

5 landings in a busy pattern with very little wind and almost no crosswind.

Approaches were passable, and I'm slowly approaching something similar to a flare on landing.

Was asked to do a right 360 on left downwind 31 at some point. Did mostly okay, though I ended up closer to the runway than when I started -- unlikely this was due to crosswind; more likely poor consistency of bank angle and/or speed on my part.

Since pattern was busy and I had to keep scanning for following traffic, got distracted from my target altitude a couple times. I leveled off okay but then failed to trim properly for level flight and/or maintain altitude. To-do next time: be conscious of that.

Controller kept giving sequences without describing following traffic ("2HG number two for the option"). At some point I was following a Citabria on right downwind 31, and was told I was #2. I looked at the runway and there was someone on short final, so I assumed that the Citabria was departing and the short final aircraft was my #1. I then turned base, only to have tower tell me that I was cutting off my traffic -- the Citabria which had just turned final far away. He asked me to continue across and join left downwind.

Nobody ever departs from the 31 right downwind. My brain just trusted the controller. That discrepancy should have made me think and ask for clarification.

Bob said controllers often do this when an aircraft is on very short final, so I need to be alert for this in the future.