Wednesday, December 31, 2014

N162HG 1.8 Solo

I did 1.8 and 12 landings today, all but (if I recall correctly) two were on Rwy 13 and the remainder were on Rwy 31. Weather was clear and calm (winds about 4 knots variable) but bumpy, especially with the sun shining brightly over the dark-colored marshes on 13 final approach.

Takeoffs were all pretty good. I'm learning more and more how to control my speed on short takeoffs, and I was off the runway like a bat out of hell. I look forward to seeing how the Flycatcher performs with a few hundred pounds of plump CFI in the right seat. :)

I did okay landings for the most part, with no ridiculously high flares. At some point I landed a bit askew (nothing more than what my CFI and I have practiced before -- still safe) but it reminded me that it's been a while since I've flown with any winds.

The bumpiness and unfamiliarity of the 13 climbout made it a bit harder to level out in the pattern. I was up to 900'-ish at some point. Another time, I got distracted looking for traffic and minding to Tower's constant caterwauling, and ended up diving to 650' just after turning downwind but before getting trimmed out. This is of course something that has happened before; it happens way less often now but I'm not out of the woods yet.

More to the point of what I was trying to do today, precision short-field landings were pretty much not happening. On almost every approach -- even on ones where I had to slip to burn energy -- I had the numbers in my windshield not moving, and came over the fence at very close to my target 50 kias. And I made a safe landing. But where I ended up touching down was anybody's guess. I don't think I really understand yet how to get this right.

I'm accustomed to flaring and patiently waiting for energy to bleed off. The resulting float down the runway, while "short" if I come in at a low enough speed, is nevertheless not precise enough to ensure a repeatable touchdown point.

I ended up having a longer flight than usual mainly because I kept trying and trying to get things right. I was not too fatigued since it was a cool day and I felt relaxed.

I think I really need some dual instruction to get this worked out!

During preflight, I noticed the Pitot tube looked a little bit askance and askew. On the order of 5° from where I am used to seeing it, but nevertheless not quite right. I debated whether to make a Big Deal™of this. Then I realized that the Maintenance Person was just a few yards away in the hangar, and the only thing over which I have 100% control in aviation is whether the NTSB report qualifies me for a Darwin award. So I went and got the dude and asked him if it was airworthy. He replied, "I'm not sure if the whole airplane is airworthy; I never fly anything I'm bigger than." But he sent me off with his blessing.

Monday, December 29, 2014

N162HG 1.6 Solo

The airplane's starter was dead, hence no flying for a while. It just got fixed today. Today's goal was to practice stalls and air work (hadn't done that in a while) then return for closed traffic.

Departed Left Dumbarton uneventfully with a short-field takeoff. I had about 10 knots of headwind, so I hit 200' alarmingly quickly over the ground!

I was having a bit more of a problem maintaining level than previously, for some reason -- mostly within PTS +/- 100' but shaky and requiring constant fiddling. It could be that the cold weather today was improving the engine performance, so my touchstone RPM numbers were not doing the trick as easily.

Crossing the mountains towards the area South of Half Moon Bay, cruising at 3500', I saw some cumuliform clouds ahead of me. I descended and noted that the bottoms of the clouds touched the horizon when I was at 3300'. That gave me my ceiling of (3300' - 500') = 2800'. From below, the marine wildlife preserve required 2000' AGL, while the ground was either 500' or 1000' AGL depending on whether it is "densely" populated. I decided to do my airwork around 2500' and stay over the ground on the shore, avoiding the high ground and remaining over the low areas where there were lots of fields for emergency landings.

I started by doing a whole bunch of steep 360-degree turns, by visual reference only -- no peeking at the altimeter until the turn is completed. I was able to stay within PTS for the first bunch of them, then somehow developed an annoying habit of losing 100'-150' each time. I think that, with peeking allowed, I should be able to do just fine on steep turns.

I was going up and down the coast to do my turns. At some point, I compared my 25 nm solo restriction to the landmarks and found that I could fly past the Pigeon Point lighthouse. I did, and it was very pretty.

I then flew up the coast from Pigeon Point, trying several stall practices. I established slow flight, full flaps and 50-55 kias, carb heat on, then pulled to idle and stalled, and recovered. I found out that I could recover with < 50' altitude loss (since I was expecting the stall, I was ready on the throttle...) but my stall horn would "blip" during recovery. I kept working on it till I got a few stalls without the blip. I think the blip is because I would over-dive, then over-pull during the recovery. Even though my altitude loss was acceptable, the fact that I was tempting a secondary stall was not. In summary, I think I need to practice this at least a little bit more.

I noticed the engine was running a tiny bit more rough during idle than I'm used to, but it was fine otherwise, so I decided not to worry.

I then decided to return to KPAO. I could have gone pretty much direct OSI or SLAC, but that would have taken me over the mountains and under the clouds, which seemed to have moved a bit during the time I was out. I decided to fly up the coast some more and cross the mountains near the Crystal Springs reservoir, where my chart indicated the ground elevation was 1500' so maintaining 2500' would be safe.

While flying, I could see my carb temperature creeping slightly into the yellow zone, so I applied carb heat and flew with it. I figured it was better safe than sorry.

I then flew towards SLAC, got ATIS, called in for closed traffic, and flew across the city of Palo Alto direct midfield, joining left traffic.

I intended to do a short-field landing. My approach ended up dipping a bit low, and I added some power. That's fine -- I had planned to practice short-field landings with power this time. But I flared too high and ended up coming down with a bump. But it was short. Tower said, "Skycatcher 162HG, nice landing, contact ground on taxiway Zulu." Don't tell me -- they're here all week. :) I replied that I wanted closed traffic so I could try again ;). They gave me the usual "taxi back each time".

I was cleaning up the aircraft on parallel Zulu when, to add insult to injury, I over-leaned and the engine stopped. And, horror of horrors, I was unable to get it started. What embarrassment! I was now a full-blown Disabled Aircraft in the Movement Area! I had to call Tower who directed me to Ground who sent an Airport Vehicle with an Airport Dude in a yellow vest. We pushed the plane off to a nearby parking spot and Airport Dude gave me a ride back to the club. There I was told to walk over to the Maintenance People and confess my utter shame.

The Maintenance Person rode the golf cart with me. He brushed off the idle roughness during flight as likely due to the cold day, which sort of makes sense in retrospect: low density altitude means extra lean mixture. When we got to the airplane, he had me crank it while he messed with the throttle and mixture. He started it out lean, and it fired up just fine. He told me I had likely flooded the engine. That too makes sense. I managed to learn something. I guess I had thought the engine would not start because it was "hot" -- but if I had stopped to think, that would make no sense. It was 13 degrees C on the ground and 5 degrees C in flight. There was very little chance of vapor lock.

One thing to think about: When he asked me to crank the engine, I immediately put the key in and started throwing switches without looking at my checklist. He had to remind me to turn on the Master and wait for the EIS to come alive so we could see the oil pressure, etc. I think this is an important aviation lesson and I'm glad I got to learn it so cheaply: When stuff starts to get weird, remember your procedures and don't just start 

I decided it was best to call it a day and taxi back. Ground told me, "Taxi back via Zulu Kilo." I accepted this expecting the taxiway in front of me to be Kilo, and that maybe they made a mistake about the Zulu part because it's routine. Then they called back and said, "Correction, taxi back via Golf." Wow. The taxiway in front of me was Golf, not Kilo. Of course, now that I thought about it, that made sense. Yet again, I accepted an instruction without reality-checking it. Again, a cheap lesson given that everyone sees everyone else and the airport was not busy. But a lesson nevertheless. Fwiw, Below is the Zulu Kilo instruction they gave me unthinkingly in red, and the actual route I took in green:

Whew! What an adventure!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

N162HG 1.4 Solo

Closed pattern at KPAO with almost no wind and not much traffic, 9 takeoffs and landings. Practicing short takeoffs and landings.


One challenge, which I usually have no problem with, is the transition from letoff, taking my toes off the brakes, then getting my feet positioned quickly on the floor to apply rudder correction using the bottom of the pedals. On my first takeoff, I flubbed that a little and ended up veering left, and took off from the middle of the left side of the runway. On my other takeoffs, I maintained centerline okay.

I am getting better at actually holding my climb speed at ~ 50 kias. I usually pay attention to the nose and ASI, but today I also tried to notice where I hit 200' (which is when I pulled up flaps and accelerated to Vy). I'm no expert, but that seems like pretty awesome climb performance from the little Flycatcher:


These were all safe, but eventful.

The challenge was to choose the proper place at which to start my full-flaps idle descent so I arrived at the right landing spot. I usually came in with too much energy, and would be at risk of floating past my landing spot, and so I'd slip to burn energy, but that would leave me going too fast and overall in a kerfuffle and not in a stabilized position for landing.

One landing was very long, and I ended up barely passing the second taxiway and had to speed back up again to go quickly to the end of the runway and turn off (trying to be courteous to others). On one landing, I bounced my nosewheel gently. It's the first time I think I've experienced this phenomenon in a "pure" form that I could discern. It was very rubber-bandey, almost like the airplane was on a long bungee bouncing up and down on the runway, and there wasn't much I could do about it. I only had a couple bounces; they were gentle; I did not overcontrol; and they damped right out. But it was interesting.

It's hard to characterize what exactly I learned today. I didn't get better or worse, but I certainly got the feel of "floating" in at 50 kias and maintaining speed (speed control was pretty good, actually). For my next practice, I'm going to set up a stable approach and learn to flare properly, and observe where I end up landing. Then I can use that to calibrate my next approaches. I think I'd learn more systematically that way.


Maneuvering and leveling out continues to improve as I get better at holding the airplane in position using nose attitude, and delaying trim until I have time to mess with it.

In the past, I think I've been "afraid" of flying the plane using firm forward pressure for any length of time, feeling like it was going to sort of "pop up" on me. I also did not trust myself to hold consistent firm pressure, and expected that I would gradually release as my arms got tired. Both of these made me trim too early. Now I am learning to look out the window, put the nose where I want it to be, and keep it there, which closes the loop and compensates for all that stuff. This makes me less likely to start trimming too early.

I was within PTS (+/- 100') in all patterns except one, where I ballooned up a bit but "corrected immediately". Still not confident and smooth enough to convince a passenger, but getting there.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

N162HG 1.5 Solo

Plan was to do ground reference maneuvers over the Leslie Salt flats, then return for short T/O and landing practice. All my takeoffs and landings today were "short" procedure. I did 3 takeoffs and landings.

The runup area was crowded due to the recent rainy weather -- it seemed like everyone in Palo Alto was desperate to escape at last! There was a trainee controller on tower, and a supervisor who cut in every once in a while. The supervisor once canceled the trainee's line up and wait clearance to me because there was a plane on final. I actually saw that plane and, I think, could have made it out there, but for future reference, this is a reminder to me not to accept clearances blindly.

Took off from Rwy 31, climbed to 1500' and turned right over the Dumbarton bridge, then right again once I had crossed the water. Once over the salt flats, I needed to dump altitude quickly to avoid flying into a bunch of clouds, so I cut the motor and slipped. I ended up overshooting my target 800' a bit by going down to about 650', but was able to climb back. This is something to keep in mind for next time.

I told tower to "be advised" of my intention to remain on frequency and practice over the salt. They eventually gave me a squawk code and gave me traffic alerts. What with the busy pattern, it was a lot of chatter and stuff to keep up with while I puttered around.

There was no wind to speak of, so I concentrated on maintaining altitude and learning to judge my distance from the "line" I was trying to follow. For the former, I did better than I would have expected, given the chatter -- I'd make a turn and look back at my altimeter and be surprised to see it reading more or less still 800'. Speed control was not very good though -- I still had an old habit of "creeping" on the throttle a bit. The real difficulty was turning so that I would end up at the proper distance from the line after making my turn. I suspect I could get to PTS standards after two or so practice sessions. In general, I think I did okay and I got a lot of experience maneuvering back and forth confidently.

I then asked Tower to make inbound for closed traffic, and was told to make a right base, then told to turn a bit to follow an inbound aircraft. I did well finding and following traffic. A couple of the landings confused me because of the non-standard pattern -- I ended up dropping full flaps too late, having to slip to burn energy, and never really having a nice stabilized approach. I made it safely in all cases, though. For a couple of the landings, though, especially the last one, I managed a "real" short landing, including raising flaps after touchdown and braking. Boy, when done right, that plane can stop on a dime! Good to know for emergencies.... On one landing, I landed maybe 50' before my intended point. I need to work on precision.

Overall, a happy flight.