Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Man, I Feel Like A Pilot!

There's something about getting into a plane that's totally unfamiliar and finding myself able to fly it that makes me feel like a "real pilot." Today I began getting checked out in the Piper Cherokee with Sergey, my original instructor. For one thing, it was really great to see him again. He went off and joined the airlines, but came back recently to instruct part time. He has such a calming, encouraging presence that even though he's teaching me the whole time, I still feel like a pro.

For another thing, wow, what a really cool feeling to fly the Cherokee! This was a Cherokee Archer, with the 180HP engine. It's interesting, it's like everything's the same, but not really. The first difference that really struck me (other than the wings being low unlike the Cessna, but I knew that) was that there was only one door! I walked around to the left side of the aircraft, and stared blankly at the plane while Sergey explained to me that no, I actually had to climb in the passenger's door.

So after that, we went through the preflight procedures, which are pretty simple with a couple of minor differences. The biggest one was the importance placed on the linkages to the rear stabilator -- "if these go out, you're screwed," as Sergey put it. One nice feature is that the stall horn is testable without sucking on it. Eew, bugs.

We took off from San Carlos from runway 12, and took a Woodside departure as we climbed to 3500'. From there, I just did a few turns and a little light maneuvering as we made our way out over Crystal Springs reservoir and out to the coast. There, we did a couple of steep turns, where I realized how much harder it is to pull and push the yoke than I'm accustomed to, but also how much more stable the plane feels when it's turning. Then we did some slow flight, which was trivially easy compared to the Cessna. The Cessna, compared to the Cherokee, feels like it's constantly about to flip over -- in steep turns, in slow flight, and stalls. Sure, the 172 stalls very friendly, but the Cherokee was in a different world -- Sergey went into a power off stall and held the controls back, and the thing went into a cycle of stalling and recovering all by itself, bucking like a bronco through the air! It just wouldn't drop a wing, it wouldn't go into a full stall.

Then, at my request, we went and did a landing at Half Moon Bay. As you may recall, a few weeks ago I tried to go out to Half Moon Bay and land, but the turbulence scared me away on downwind. Well, it was pretty much the same story here, except this time we actually rode it out. It was amazing how in control I felt, even when we were having the heck kicked out of us by the turbulence. We stayed the course and actually landed on runway 30, then just turned around and took off on 12 and headed back to San Carlos.

We entered the pattern for 12 at San Carlos, and Sergey walked me through a landing. I flared a little high, so he helped me correct for that. The next time through, he let me do it myself. I flared high again, but corrected myself. Both times my turn to final was late and I had to make an adjustment. The third time, I was still late, so the fourth time I paid more attention and flew a proper pattern without the overshoot. All of the landings were quite good!

Hopefully my checkout will be complete in one more flight, which is currently scheduled for Saturday morning. Then, once I check out on the 160HP Cherokee Warrior, I'll have access to most of West Valley's fleet! I think these are enough to keep me busy for the time being, and there's always the greater challenge of the Cessna 182 and the Piper Saratoga for when I get bored!

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