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Hop #18

Today was some really lovely flying weather, as you can see here as I pull onto One Four at 7B2. A couple tiny puffy clouds, nice blue skies. There was haze under around 2,500 feet - where those little clouds are - with clear air above, indicating stable air, possibly under a temperature inversion. I taxied out at around 9:20 am, and it was already getting hotter down below. Today's flight was more of the same - i.e. practice maneuvers in the practice area and landings in the pattern. I had hoped to take my written exam this week, but unfortunately all the proctors at the local test centers are unavailable until Monday - and Monday I have to leave to go to Texas for the week for work. So looks like I'll be delayed taking the written, but that won't really delay my flying progress since I won't be here anyway. Only annoying bit is that I'd studied up to that sort of peak where you're extremely ready to take the exam - and now I'll have to wait a couple of weeks and restudy to get back to the edge. But that's OK; this is supposed to be material I retain, anyway. Right? Right?!

Did one circuit of the pattern before heading out to the practice area. As you can see, there's some haze in the middle distance, but there's at least 5 statute mile visibility in any direction. As you can see here, the haze and cloud layer is at right around 2,500 feet, which I'm passing on my way up to 3,000. There wasn't any traffic near the practice area today, just a few other planes in the pattern near the airport. When I got to UMass (hello UMass, familiar landmark) I started by doing clearing turns - a pair of 90-degree turns left then right to make sure there is no approaching traffic. After doing that, I did a full 360 left then right, just getting used to holding altitude, bank angle and yaw.

After that, I tried some more ground reference maneuvers. S-turns along a road and turns about a point. Slowly getting better. Afterwards (and after some more clearing turns) I switched to steep turns - 45-degree banks left and right for a full 360 turn each way. Actually, I did two full turns each way. That went fine. After that, I decided on Fun Time and transitioned to slow flight, and tooled around over UMass for 10 minutes or so at 60-65MPH (the air speed indicator becomes less accurate at high angle of attack due to air entering the pitot at an angle; it reads lower than you're really going). After a full 360 turn in slow flight, each way, it was time for the natural evolution of slow flight. That's right - the stall! Wheee! Pulled back and kept the nose high as the speed bled off. In that pic, you can see the horizon is noticeably lower under my nose, indicating the airplane is pointing upwards. It's not flying in that direction, though, because we're in the area of reverse command - my altimeter is still showing right around 3,000 feet with negligible climb on the VSI. On the airspeed indicator on the top left, though, you can see my IAS is coming down below the green arc (the bottom of the green arc is stall speed in 'clean' configuration, as I am there - no flaps - but again, the indicator is reading a bit low at high AOA so I haven't actually stalled yet. It actually took until the IAS was around 42 MPH to stall the airplane. If I were landing, I'd be at a lower AOA so the air speed indicator would be reading a bit higher, probably near 52-55 MPH at stall.

The horn sounded, and because this is a Cessna 172 (one of the most well-behaved trainers out there) the wings buffeted for a few seconds before the nose dropped down below the horizon. I let the controls slide forward and eased in some power (I'd been at idle, essentially, bleeding the speed off) and the airplane smoothly recovered. I think I dropped down to maybe 2,750 feet before climbing back to 3,000.

Did that a few times, in power-off and power-on stall configurations (the former imitates what might happen when you're landing; the latter, what might happen on take off). No worries. After half an hour playing around over UMass, I decided to head back to 7B2 and run around the pattern a few times. Heading south, I had to descend past a few small clouds just over the Malls. As I descended through 2,400 (staying 1,000 feet from the clouds horizontally, despite them being such li'l wisps - such are the rules) the airplane bumped several times, showing the light turbulence that existed at the mixing layer of warmer and cooler air where the clouds were sitting. Below the layer, I was back into stable, hazy air, but a few spots over very dark terrain were bumpy, indicating high convection from the sun.

The first landing, I came along the downwind and took note of the wind sock - directly across the runway - and proceeded to set up the landing. All went well, but for some reason I just couldn't get the airplane steady on final. Rode it down feeling like I was yawing oddly, the turn coordinator showing random deflections to the left and right - the airplane just didn't feel clean. The landing was fine, although I touched down on one side first. When I was taxiing back past the windsock, I noted it was still directly across the runway...

...but in the exact opposite direction. So the wind had shifted 180 between my downwind leg and final leg. It wasn't very much wind, maybe 5-7 knots, but thats 10-14 knots relative difference! I realized that was what caused the 'weird' feeling on final - I was consciously correcting for the wind I thought I had, but that made the drift worse, so I was unconsciously fighting myself to get back over centerline. I'm glad, in a way - it means I'm developing enough of a feel for the airplane to be making those sorts of corrections without thinking about them much; now I just have to learn to pay attention to that unconscious pilot. When I feel like I'm not flying clean, take a breath and see if I'm fighting the airplane (or myself) because conditions aren't what I think they are in the forebrain.

Did 4 landings, all uneventful. I noted that I was coming in much slower that I had been yesterday, which I ascribe to having just done slow flight practice again - I have an instinctive aversion to letting the airplane get below around 70 MPH until I'm practically flared, but really, I should be easing the nose back and letting the speed drop into the 60s once I have the runway made, just not letting the sink rate get too high.