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!