May 16th, 2012: Slip and Slide
Ok, today was just awesome. I added the cushion back to the seat today which gave me a little better lift and a lot better view, although it did take me a bit to get used to how my feet rested on the rudder pedals. After a few minutes, I didn't even notice and everything seemed a lot more comfortable. We ran through a few more high speed taxis, 2 tail down and 2 tail up. I was fine on the tail down taxis, although I got a little squirly on the first tail up taxi when I neglected to hold left aileron which caused the plane to get tossed around when I hit some cross wind on the runway. I have to remember to both hold "stick" in the right position for the wind, as well as holding some right rudder to compensate for the lift on the wing, in this case, the left wing. When I got hit by the gust it actually lifted the left wing and left wheel off the ground so I was taxiing on one wheel and trying to recover. It was a little freaky for sure as I had no idea what the proper course of recovery was, so I just guessed my way through it…and of course, guessed about half wrong. I did manage to recover, but it wasn't pretty. On the second pass I held "stick" both back and left, and held proper right rudder, and it was amazing what a difference it made. The wing stayed down and the plane stayed straight.
The next run was actually a take off run, which means, well, at the end you just keep going and start flying. Totally unbelievable, I made a nice taxi down the runway, at 60mph pulled the stick back, held some left back stick, right rudder and took off. My first unassisted take off! What a beautiful thing. I was pretty apprehensive thinking through the process at home, and even during the first 2 taxi runs today, but once you know you're going to do it, you have little choice but to make it happen. The taxi run was smooth and straight, the attitude of the plane was stable and level and off we went. Fantastic. I proceeded to take the plane up to 3300 feet where my CFI demonstrated what they call, steep turns at 45 degrees. Keeping the plane level and at speed you have to bank the plane into a 45 degree angle, hit the throttle to compensate for the drop in airspeed and hold the plane at that angle for at least a full 360 degree revolution, and then you level off and do the same thing in the other direction. These were way cool. 45 degrees is a fairly steep bank and there's a lot to pay attention to all the time, the horizon, altitude, airspeed, attitude, you have to be watching everything all the time, but nothing for too much time. It helped to pick a point on the nose where the horizon crossed it and hold it there, although that can be deceiving if the horizon isn't actually level, out here we have mountains, so you have to also pay attention to everything else that's going on as well.
After a half dozen 360 degree turns in both directions, leveling out in between, I practiced a couple of power on stalls, the first one which I pretty much blew by taking the plane up at too steep of an angle and actually diving out of it before stalling, so weird and contradictory these things are. The second one went off very nicely, keeping a smooth and steady steep angle and holding right rudder to compensate for the torque and prop-wash and pushing it just until the plane stops flying and the nose starts to come down, rather quickly I might add, on it's own. After pitching down slightly I quickly added throttle and started my ascent to level back off. I think I could practice those all day. My CFI then had me fly a high pattern and at the point where you would normally be landing, take the plane into a slow stall and then pull out of it for a go-round. Is there anything about this that isn't totally cool?
Next we practiced intentionally "slipping" the plane. Slipping is accomplished by using cross controls to point the plane one direction or the other while actually flying straight ahead. This is something you do all the time by accident when learning to fly, but it's something you absolutely need to learn how to do intentionally in order to fly and comes into significant play, as I would find out in a few minutes, when you land the plane. Slips are normally preformed at idle speed, which is something I still need to get used to, flying at idle speed. Again it seems contrary, after all, cars don't drive particularly well at idle speed, but planes on the other hand, fly quite well with the engine at idle. By pulling the stick to the left or right, and using an opposite amount of rudder, you actually turn the direction the plane is facing without turning the plane. I need more practice at this for sure, but it feels unusually comfortable to me, and you can tell when you're doing it wrong by looking at your focal point off in the distance. If you start moving to the left or right of your focal point, say a mountain top in this case, you're turning, not slipping, so it helps to keep your eyes on that point in the distance as you adjust the controls to move the plane laterally one direction or the other.
After a little slip practice, and for the first time, I actually got to just fly the plane for a bit. I know that sounds weird, as it's all about flying, but when you're learning to fly, you're constantly practicing maneuvers of one sort or another, you're never really just flying. Today I got to fly, if only for 10 minutes or so, up through the valley between Sonoma and Sears point, and then up through the Petaluma Valley, and back out over the Petaluma Gap towards Sonoma. It was a beautiful thing indeed, just cruising along at 1900 feet and flying. At that point I took the plane all the way through the descent, down to 1000 feet and into the landing pattern. As the other day, I kept anticipating, as I grew closer and closer to the runway with the plane pitching and rolling and bouncing all around in the ground turbulence, that my CFI would take the controls and land the plane…but this time as I was 50 feet, 30 feet 10 feet off the runway I realized…he's not going to do it is he, I'm landing this plane, and with a squeal and a squawk, and a wee bit of bouncing about, so I did, happily zooming along the ground, tail high, 60 miles an hour on 2 wheels just as we had practiced. At that moment, I didn't have time to think about what you're supposed to do or what I'd been taught to do, I could only do, and so I did. Rolling up to the ramp by the hanger I simply heard, "nice landing, pull her up in front of the office". What can I say, totally cool. I can't wait for tomorrow.