Sunday, March 04, 2007

The last six weeks

Prior to this weekend, I flew only once in the last six weeks, thanks to the weather (days of very low visibility, followed by days of rain, followed by my vacation to Mexico, followed by days of rain) and my schedule ( That flight was February 14, and all I did was take a Cessna out into the pattern and do 3 landings, at Palo Alto. The great thing was, the landings were very good, right out of the gate! This was a first, after three weeks off, having my landings not deteriorate at all. So that was exciting.

The next time I flew after that was yesterday. There was some excitement on my way down to San Carlos; as I left home and got on the freeway, I watched as the usual complement of jets made their way in on final approach to SFO's runways 28. One of them was quite far off to the left (from its perspective) out over Highway 101, and banking rather steeply to the right. A moment later I looked again and it had leveled its wings and begun a climb. I watched as it retracted its landing gear. It's always interesting to watch a commercial jet do a go-around; it's a great reminder that it's a good tool for all of us!

When I got to San Carlos, I ran into my alternate instructor from my PPL, and he was going on about an incident he'd seen happen the previous day. Here is a link to the story. Basically according to my instructor, the pilot, an elderly gentleman who's known at SQL for not really being able to see very well, ended up pretty far out on final approach at 100' and hit some power lines. He somehow maintained control, told the tower he'd hit something, did a low pass so the tower could check out his gear, and proceeded to freak out once all the way around the pattern before landing safely with some relatively minor damage to the plane. Crazy stuff! We ended up talking about my approach toward instrument training, and he had a few suggestions for instructors who might suit my style, so I plan to start pursuing that soon.

For the actual flight, I took Warrior N81020 out of San Carlos and just flew down the coast. I was initially going to do some pattern work, but my instructor recommended I take the plane down the coast and enjoy the weather, so I did, and it turned out to be a great suggestion. Actually before I took off, during preflight I noticed that one of the landing gear struts was inflated way more than the other. When I sat in the plane, I was tilted noticeably to the left. I had read the squawk sheet, and it had said the right strut was low -- I guess whoever pumped it up did not hold back, because it was very high now. I got out the POH and looked to see if there was a range of acceptable inflation, or just a minimum. Turns out it was just a minimum, which both sides met, so finally I decided to just go. It was nice to just fly the plane, concentrate on holding altitude, and look out the window. Pattern work is great, but it's a lot of work. This was a nice "it's good to be a pilot" flight. My landing back at SQL would've been fine if the runway were about 5 feet higher. As it was, I dropped it a touch harder than most would prefer. After that, the landing gear struts were nice and even!

I did want to try to work on my landing technique, which, while it may not have suffered after the initial 3 weeks off, seemed to have gone downhill after the subsequent 3 week break. So I went out again today, in N298CA, a 172SP out of PAO. Things were very busy in the PAO pattern, so I asked for a right Dumbarton and instead was granted a right crosswind. "You can ask for that any time," the controller said. How why would I ever want to take a right Dumbarton? It is easier to stay out of SJC's airspace when following the bridge, but really. I took the right crosswind (with a very nice takeoff) and went out to Livermore. They were using runways 7 instead of the usual 25, which was new for me. It was very busy there too, so I did one landing, taxied back and took off again for Palo Alto.

Back at PAO, I ended up doing 3 laps in the pattern. They were long laps as the controller struggled to get many departures out in between each landing. On my final lap, he had me extend my downwind out to Shoreline Amphitheater (which I'd done on the previous lap as well) and proceeded to line up two departures in front of my arrival. I'd slowed down considerably; basically any time my pattern gets extended I slow down as much as I'm comfortable with, usually no more than 80 knots on downwind with 10 degrees of flaps out. As I was on final, the controller decided he would try to get a third plane out. Here's where the new position and hold regulations come into play. He put the plane in position and hold, so I did not have a landing clearance, and here I was on a relatively short final. He said to me, "Cessna 8CA, one more aircraft holding in position for departure." I replied, "8CA, roger," but I must have sounded a bit apprehensive, because his reply was, "It's making me a little uneasy too." By this time I'd already decided that this was a good opportunity to try a short field landing, so my flaps were fully extended and I was at 60 knots. "I'm keeping it real slow," I told him, and he thanked me.

My short field landing was terrible, though I managed to rescue the landing itself for a soft touchdown, but it was time to terminate. Hopefully I'll be getting more practice in more regularly over the next few weeks!

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