Your connection with the sky

August 7th, 2012: Flying Point Reyes + Maneuvers Solo

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Time for another Solo.

Since I'm planning on flying my cross country tomorrow, I thought I'd take the Cessna up today and get in some additional solo time. The flight school is closed on Tuesdays, but I had gotten the ok from my instructor yesterday to take the plane out today, so I booked it for my usual 11am - 1pm slot. When I arrived at Skypark today there were three planes on the ground and a half dozen new faces milling around. It was a beautiful day and these folks were taking advantage of a little R&R on their way to Los Angeles. I'm not sure where they came from, but clearly they had been flying for awhile and Skypark was a nice stop on their way. There was something about it that just struck me as so completely cool, these 3 couples each with their own uniquely different planes, flying together...somewhere, anywhere. This is exactly the kind of thing that inspires me to fly, the freedom to just get in a plane and go, stopping at little airports along the way, gassing up or resting for a bit and then continuing on. One couple was flying some sort of old war bird, the kind of plane you'd expect to find in an old John Wayne movie, both with their names emblazoned on the out side of the cockpit, a beautiful piece of machinery from era's past. Another couple was flying what looked to be an older Cessna 182 and the third couple, some type of vintage V tail. I don't know enough about planes to tell you what's what, but I can tell you there are a lot of beautiful planes out there of all vintages and pilots seem to love flying them all, no matter what they are or when in time they came from.

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1968, Nanchang CJ-6A
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1968 Beech V35A & 1969 Cessna 182M

After watching the 3 of them take off in succession and disappear into the sky, I ran my pre-flight and it was my turn to get off the ground. Unlike every other day of my training to date, I didn't really have much of a plan. I can always use some practice with maneuvers, and it was a perfect day to get some in, but other than that, I just wanted to get back in the air by myself and fly, maybe practice some VOR tracking or get some more experience setting up the GPS. I took off out of Skypark and climbed to 3500 feet as I headed south west towards the San Francisco Bay and the general area where we have gone to practice maneuvers. I was having such a nice time just flying however, something I haven't gotten to do all that often, that I just continued to climb to 4500 feet and headed west out to the ocean. I set up the VOR to track to the Pt. Reyes VOR station and continued heading on my new course. As I mentioned, it was a beautifully clear day, most of the fog had burned off, even out on the Sonoma Coast, and I was treated to a spectacular view of the coast and Point Reyes, a mysterious piece of land and now national park that drifted across the Pacific and attached itself to California a million years ago or so...at least, that's what I've read.

I flew north along the coast for 10 miles or so, taking in the sites of Point Reyes and marveling at the fact that I was soaring alone a mile above it. Keeping an eye on my time I made a 180 degree turn to loop around and head back south so I could soak in as much as possible before heading back over the hills and getting some maneuver practice in. Climbing to 5500 feet I made 2, 90 degree clearing turns to make sure there wasn't any other traffic on the vicinity and then configured the plane for some slow flight practice. Flying just above idle and holding the plane at altitude and 45 knots, I made 2, 360 degree turns, one in each direction. The ability to hold a plane in the air at any given altitude at just above a stalling speed while you maneuver in all directions still amazes me, it's like tricking physics. As long as I was already set up for slow flight, I knew it would be the perfect time to set myself up for a power off stall, so with full flaps engaged I pitched the nose down enough to pick up speed to 65 knots and hold it there for a few seconds before pulling back on the yoke and pitching the nose back up, steadily increasing my roll until the plane began to stall, then diving back briefly and adding throttle to recover back into a steady ascent. There's nothing quite like stalling the plane a mile in the air to really make you aware of the fact that you're soloing. Since I like to practice all of my maneuvers in pairs, I reconfigured the plane for a second power off stall, recovering to cruising speed and a steady climb before pulling the plane into my first of 2 steep bank 360 degree turns followed by 2 power on stalls...my own private roller coaster!

Feeling pretty good about everything I had just accomplished, I figured it was time to start heading back, but since I had now managed to climb to 6500 feet, I needed to bleed off some altitude. Heading east I began a somewhat slow descent until I was over the south end of the Petaluma Valley, a large expanse of farmland just at the north end of the San Francisco Bay. Since I now needed to descend another 5500 feet and didn't really have the distance to get it done on the way back to Skypark, I decided to combine a few maneuvers, the first of which was a 1000 foot straight ahead hard slip followed by turns on a point with a spiraling descent over the fields. Descending 5000 feet at 500 feet a minute took another 8 minutes of turns, so by the time I got down to my desired altitude of 1500 feet I had just enough time to make it back to the airport and maybe get in a landing or 2 at Skypark. Heading north toward Sonoma I made my call "Sonoma Skypark traffic, Cessna five three zero echo romeo, 5 miles south entering on a 45 for left downwind to two six".

Flying downwind to base everything was going well as I made my second call to alert any other pilots in the area of my intentions, "Skypark traffic, Cessna five three zero echo romeo left downwind two six", turning to base everything was still going well although I could now feel a bit of a tailwind. Knowing that my tailwind would soon turn into a crosswind on final, I adjusted my speed, throttling back just a bit more than I might have usually done at that particular point while dropping my second range of flaps. As I made my final call, and my turn from base to final and dropped my third range of flaps, I could immediately sense the quartering crosswind coming from my left. Since I had dumped speed for the tailwind, I was now too slow and low on my final approach, pitching the nose down to pick up some speed meant descending even lower above the trees, so I opted for a combination, a slight pitch down accompanied by a small burst of throttle and a slight pitch back up. I knew this was going to do 2 things, increase my speed and altitude, both of which were going to add to my landing distance and roll out if I couldn't figure out a way to immediately begin to dump them again as I descended to the runway. I knew I always had the option of going around, and I had no problem with doing it, but I also wanted to see if my adjustments were enough to get me on the ground. As I nosed down towards the runway, I pushed the Cessna into a hard slip, dumping the excess speed and altitude I had gained just a few seconds ago while adjusting for the crosswind. It turned out to be just the right combination and I dropped the Cessna in just over the numbers and rolled out down the runway.

With 10 minutes left on the clock, and a need for some more experience in crosswind landings, I decided to take off again and fly through the pattern. Armed with the knowledge of my last landing I flew the pattern a little differently, staying in careful control of my speed while making timely adjustments to the flaps I made my turn from base to final with enough altitude and speed that I only needed to make final adjustments for the crosswind. Pushing the Cessna into a controlled slip I eased the plane down through the crosswind and laid it softly on the runway. There was no one at the airport today to share my excitement about what I had just accomplished, but it didn't matter, I had learned something incredibly valuable, and I was all smiles.

I'm really looking forward to my first cross country flight tomorrow.

B.

 

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