Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Crosswind Practice

Yesterday I completed my checkout in the 172SP, which is great since West Valley Flying Club has about 10 SPs between San Carlos and Palo Alto, and only two regular 172s that I'm willing to fly. Plus the SPs are newer and more comfortable, especially for passengers. Now I can start flying people around!

Steve and I then took an hour and tried to get my crosswind landing technique to be better. My previous attempts were all messed up; I'd get blown all over the place, and let the wind get up under my upwind wing, which is really a dangerous thing to do -- a great way to lose control of the plane and potentially get flipped over.

I'd been taught to do the whole approach crabbing into the wind (i.e. like a boat crossing a river points several degrees upstream to go across in a straight line, the classic trigonometry problem), and then at the end, straighten the nose with the rudder and drop the upwind wing. But that was getting too challenging, too many things happening at once, since I also had to think about the landing flare. So this time we did the whole approach aligned with the runway and with the upwind wing low. We did a couple of rounds splitting the controls; first I controlled the ailerons for alignment and he controlled the rudders, and then we traded. Then I tried to put it together. By the end, I had it kind of working, but not smoothly. I'm still overcontrolling with the yoke, deflecting too far instead of just making small corrections, and controlling too little with the rudders. But I'm getting it; I think one more lesson and I'll have it!

In the meantime I can fly SPs out of the more wind-friendly Palo Alto!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

First 172SP Flight

I took my first flight in a 172SP, N236SP out of San Carlos, last Wednesday. It was a little crazy; I was supposed to meet Steve (the instructor) at 4:00. I had a meeting at work from 3:00 to 3:30, and at 3:30 the CEO walked in and the meeting then got extended. At 3:55, I walked out of the meeting and got to the airport by 4:15.

Steve and I started by going over the major differences between a 172 and a 172SP. There are 13 fuel drains instead of 3 -- they tried to reduce fuel sloshing by contouring the bottom of the tanks, but that resulted in fuel, and possibly impurities, getting stuck in certain spots. So they drilled holes in those spots and installed drains that now must be checked during preflight. Brilliant.

The SP is fuel injected, so no more worrying about carburetor heat! Also, the fuel selector switch has no "off" position; instead there is a separate cutoff control. The startup procedure is bizarre: Priming is no longer manual, but instead, the auxiliary fuel pump is used. So: Throttle 1/4" forward, mixture full rich, turn on the fuel pump, wait for the slightest bit of movement on the fuel flow meter (it calls for 5GPH, but that's a tiny bump the way the gauge is set up), then pull the mixture full lean and kill the pump. Then, start the ignition, and advance the mixture to full rich when it fires, and immediately adjust the throttle for 1000RPM.

Crazy, huh?

After that, things are pretty normal. I got dinged a couple of times for advancing the throttle too quickly, which apparently is never good practice but fuel injected engines particularly hate. We did a Bay Meadows departure, and did a steep turn, slow flight and stall out over Crystal Springs Reservoir. The plane handled so well! Once I got it trimmed, it would just stay there! Amazing. The old 172s are so loose, that this just felt great.

We came back in and did some pattern work. My first approach and landing were all over the place, and Steve told me so. He demonstrated one, and then I did one. The last one was good except I flared high.

And that was it! So hopefully sometime this week I will complete the checkout, and be able to take passengers up in style!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

First Passenger

Two weekends ago, I took my first passenger in the air! What a rush. We were in 6521J, my trusty old training plane. I felt like an airline captain! I gave a safety briefing, demonstrated the use of the safety belts, and showed how to latch doors open in the event of an emergency. How cool was that!

We had a bit of a limited timeframe. My passenger Nirmala was not the least bit scared; she was cool as a cucumber. We had a little bit of trouble getting her headset to work; the first time the headset was just broken. The second time, the headset would not pick up her voice and transmit, so I had to talk first and then she could answer. Not a bad arrangement!

So we decided to fly out over Half Moon Bay and try to fly over the coast for a while. I asked for a left Dumbarton departure out of PAO and got clearance to taxi. Nirmala said, "I didn't understand a word of that!" We taxied over to 31, did a run-up, and got clearance to take off. I started the roll, and we lifted off. Nirmala told me later that at that point, she got scared.

The rest of the flight was pretty smooth. We flew over Half Moon Bay, but clouds were coming in, so we turned around, transitioned back through Palo Alto airspace and out toward Sunol, and then around and back in with a pretty smooth landing.

Now I'm training in the 172SP so that my next passenger will be more comfortable.