Stuck on the Ground (May 30, 2009)

I have a flight booked for today. I’m mentally looking forward to it, however my body does not co-operate. I’m feeling ill, dodgy stomach, slight dizziness. Nothing that normally would stop me from doing things. However when faced with the prospect of flying a $200,000 plus aircraft with no on-board facilities, you have to rethink these things.

So today I ground myself. No flying for me.

Instead me and my instructor spend the time in the classroom. When people think of flying lessons they think of getting in the aircraft and zooming around the skies, and yes that is the point. However there is a lot of work to be done on the ground as well. In fact you’ll spend more time doing ground work and prep than you will in the air, so keep this in mind.

Since the next lesson is to be on range and endurance, we go over the theory and practicalities of it on the ground this time. It’s a good way to make use of a sick, no flight day, as there is always something to learn and go through.

So, range and endurance. To this point we’ve been flying the plane in just regular cruise mode, with full fuel for optimal manoeuvrability and responsiveness. However this mode is also our thirstiest setup. It’s fine for local flights, and training hops around the local area, but it doesn’t help us if we need to travel a long distance, or need to stay up in the air for as long as possible. So, we have range and endurance.

Range, obviously, is to allow you to get the maximum distance out of your aircraft. This means not flying along at maximum speed and full fuel burn. So, range configuration, how can I get the plane set up for the maximum distance travelled? One thing to note here, this won’t get you to your destination the fastest, just make sure you get there.

So, we set the aircraft for best range power as determined by the POH (Pilot Operating Handbook) for the aircraft, then we start to lean the fuel mixture until the RPM begins to drop. At that point, we increase the fuel flow three turns (the fuel mixture can be pulled in and out, or twisted for finer fuel flow alterations.)

So now we’re set up for maximum range. We’re not going out full cruise speed, but we’ll go further.

Endurance. For endurance we don’t care about getting anywhere, we just want to stay in the air the longest possible time. This may be for many reasons. You’ve had a problem and want time to diagnose it and work out the best course of action (maybe you’re lost, or there’s been a technical issue.) Perhaps there’s been a bad landing at the airport you’re supposed to be landing at and they need time to get the runway clear. Or even bad weather over your destination that should pass in an hour or so. In any of these cases, if you have no alternative destinations you just want to stay up there as long as possible. It’s not like in a plane you can just pull over to the side of the road and wait it out.

So similar to the range settings, but we want to reduce our fuel consumption as much as possible. We’re not going anywhere, so we don’t need speed. Do reduce power to the best endurance setting in your POH, and then start leaning the fuel mixture. We want to stay in the air, so once we start seeing a drop in our VSI (vertical speed indicator), we want to re enrich the engine to just before when it started to drop. There, we’ll stay up in the air long enough to sort things out.

Costs: No aircraft rental today, so just the instructor. 1.3 hours, $78 plus GST. Total cost: $81.90

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Flying high (24 May, 2009)

24th May 2009, another flying lesson. Started off fine, we did the walkaround, got the plane ready, and went off to the apron near Charlie intersection to do our runup checks.

When we finished them we had to hold for a Porter flight to pass us and take off first. As they where passing they stopped in front of us. Next thing we hear on the radio “Ground this is Porter XXX, can you pass a message to GFND, their front wheel is looking a little spongy.” “GFND this is City Ground, did you copy the Porter transmission.” “City Ground, GFND, yes we copied. We’ll head back and get it checked out.”

So taxi back to the apron and shut down. Get out, yes the front wheel is looking a little flatter than it should. May have been fine, but can’t take the chance. However the problem existed because I didn’t check the front wheel on the walkaround. This is why they are important, with the flatter tire it could have caused a problem both on the takeoff run and the landing. So, lesson learned, always check the front wheel. Yes I made a mistake, I missed a check, however having made that mistake ensures I’ll never make it again.

So get the Porter FBO ramp boys out, they inflate the tire and check the others for good measure. Get back in, recheck everything, another runup check then to runway 26 for takeoff.

Good takeoff, fine flight, out to the practice area and practice steeper turns, climbs and descents. Still very much gentle learning as I’m getting used to the responsiveness of the plane. Come back, and a fully assisted landing from the instructor.

Costs: Airplane rental, 1.3 hours (they took 0.2 hours off due to the wheel incident), cost of $198.41. Instructor time, 1.7 hours (including ground briefing), $102. Total cost including GST, $315.43. Accumulated 1.5 hours (longest lesson to date.)

Ground School – Meteorology (May 26 & 28, June 2, 2009)

Ah meteorology, the most important lesson. Well lessons, three of them this time. Same instructor as Airframes and Engines. Now this is a big topic, big and complex.

Cloud types, fog types, precipitation types, high pressure, low pressure, cold fronts, warm fronts (starting to sound like a Billy Joel song here.) Lets face it, meteorology is a huge topic, and possibly the one most pilots are weakest on.

I remember understanding it when I was there and studying it, I remember reading about it in between classes, however looking back now I realise I’ve forgotten a lot and need to revisit it. This is too important to gloss over, though I do remember the “don’t go near a thunderstorm” lessons.

Seriously, if anyone knows of a good book on weather, let me know.

We did some weather predictions, learnt how to read the various Nav Canada weather charts (here are some examples for your delight.) Very interesting class, very informative, and now so very gone from my mind. Best start reading it again.

Flying Again (May 18, 2009)

May 18th, 2009. My second proper flying lesson. Yes I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it. Freedom, soaring through the air. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Do the walkaround, check the plane is airworthy. All seems fine. Instructor talks me through the takeoff, but she’s still controlling the rudder for the takeoffs at this point, while I do the power and the actual rotation off the runway.

Rudder? why do you need rudder when taking off in a straight line? Well it’s down to the physics of the engines. When at full power, the engines produce a lot of torque towards the left hand side. This results in the plane wanting to point and roll towards the left. As a result you need right hand rudder on take off to keep the plane straight. Simple (yeah right!)

So take off, (instructor is also doing the radio work, but I’ll get to it eventually,) fly eastbound out of the control zone towards the practice area.

Today we’re practicing straight and level flight. Sounds simple, and it should be, but when you’re new to the plane and just want to do it it’s suddenly not so easy. There are many different forces acting on the plane. Gravity wants to pull you down, lift wants to push you up. Drag wants to slow you down and wind just wants to do whatever it likes with you. As a result it’s a little harder to maintain that straight and level flight, especially on nice warm hot mornings like today where you are getting ground effect heating turbulence generated as the ground warms up from the sun (and not at even rates depending on the surface. You can definitely tell when you’re flying over a major highway as the hot air rising from that is a lot more than a grassy field.)

So with all these forces acting on you it becomes more of a balancing act to keep travelling in a straight line at the same altitude. Wind blows you off slightly, so you have to rudder into the wind to maintain your track. Power is torguing to the left, you use the rudder slightly to the right (while balancing out the wind.) Descending slightly, you need to trim nose up a bit more. Climbing, trim nose down.

Ultimately it’s not as complicated as it sounds, you get the hang of it relatively quickly, though I’m still today learning how much to spin the trim wheel for each configuration.

Also taught is how to set the power for our desired speed. In the Cessna 172R the standard cruise power setting is around 2,100 rpm (revs per minute) to maintain ~110 knots airspeed. If you want to slow down, you reduce power. Speed up, increase power. You of course have to keep the aircraft trimmed to maintain altitude at this point. Rule of thumb for the aircraft in straight and level flight is roughly take off 100 rpm to drop the airspeed 5 knots. Obviously this doesn’t work through the whole range of flight and power settings, but it’s a good rough rule when you’re in the air.

1.2 hours of flight time.

Costs: Plane 1.2 hours, $183.14. Instructor, 1.4 hours, $84.00. Including taxes, total cost $280.50

Sunglasses

Not the most interesting topic, but one of the items I purchased was a dedicated pair of aviation sunglasses. Why a dedicated pair? Why won’t regular sunglasses do the job. Well regular ones can do the job, however most standard sunglasses are polarised lenses. The problem with polarised lenses is that when two polarised surfaces interact with each other, they can block out all light. This means the way the perspex canopy of the plane is curved you can get the streaking blocking effect which limits your vision. It can also block out the polarised instrument gauges, which isn’t a good idea.

In addition polarised lenses work by blocking horizontal light. This means that the light reflecting from the wings of another airplane may be diminished, making them harder to spot while flying. And since we’re learning to fly under Visual Flight Rules, it’s a good idea to be able to see other planes as quickly and easily as possible.

So, a pair of aviation sunglasses. I ended up picking a pair of grey lens (no colour distortion) Randolph Engineering Concorde glasses.

Not a big topic I grant you, but the reason I’m including it is I said I’d tell you of all the costs in this whole learning to fly experience, and these where an additional cost.

Cost: $119.95 plus taxes. Total $135.55.

Ground School – Air Law (May 19 & May 21, 2009)

The most important ground school lesson. Air law.

As you know they’re all important, and this is about all the regulations we have to live by. They’re there for safety reasons, regulatory reasons and sometimes maybe bureaucratic reasons.

I’ve put two lessons into one post here, because lets face it it’s not the worlds most exciting topic and you don’t want to read about it twice. Yes the rules surrounding pilot licencing are exciting and fascinating, but be honest, a lesson where you go through various CARs (Canadian Air Regulations) over two classes isn’t the most riveting in the world. And a lot of it comes down to, it’s your responsibility as the pilot not anyone elses.

Can’t really think of anything else to say. I’ll try and pick a more exciting topic for next time. Which I believe is an actual flight.

Ground School – Flight Instruments (14 May, 2009)

It’s Thursday, so this means I have another ground school. The topic of this one, flight instruments. Very important, easily the most important ground school lesson (just like all the others. You get the idea yet that every single thing you learn in flying is important. As the saying goes “It doesn’t matter, eventually will.”)

So flight instruments, all those dials and gauges that most people are passingly familiar with, even if they don’t know what they do.

  • Airspeed indicator: tells you your airspeed.This speed is relative to the air around you, not your ground speed. You need a GPS or some such for that.
  • Turn and slip indicator: tells you how coordinated your turn is, at what rate you’re turning, and whether you’re slipping to the side or not.
  • Altimeter: Everyone knows this one, it’s how high you are. Except it’s a bit trickier than just telling you that as it comes down to pressures, how you’ve set it and changeable meteorological conditions.  In other words, set it up correctly and it’s mostly accurate, set it wrong and you may suffer an unexpected knock on something.
  • Oil pressure: Easy enough.
  • Fuel gauge: In our case the amount of fuel in each tank (remember, two tanks mounted in the wings.
  • Heading indicator: Which direction you are pointed. Note there is often a difference between direction you’re pointed, and direction you’re going, especially in a small plane in strong winds.
  • Vertical speed indicator: Climbing or descending, and how fast.
  • Attitude indicator: Orientation of the airplane. It’s that little multicoloured ball with the small airplane in the middle (I really need to take some photographs of the interior.)
  • And several others depending on the aircraft such as angle of attack indicator.

Lesson explains the shortcomings of each instrument, how they operation, how to get the best out of each of them. A strange mix of when you have to rely on your instruments, and when you shouldn’t. How to tell when something is wrong, and how to interpret the wrongness.

A good solid lesson full of good solid information. And a lot of food for thought.