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Hop #8

My instructor called a couple of days ago and asked if we could move today's lesson, and I said 'sure' without asking for details. So naturally I realize yesterday that the flight is at 8am. I am not what you might call a morning person. But I mainlined coffee and got there around 8:05 (before my CFI, I should add) and we had time to go over my pre-solo written quiz. I was OK save for a couple of things:

  • Losing your engine midflight - set a course for your chosen landing site before you try to restart, that way you don't lose the glide range during the restart attempt. Use the ABCDE checklist: (A)irspeed (trim to 65 KIAS/80 MPH on a Cessna 172 for best glide, VBG); (B)est landing spot (find a place to set down and head for it); (C)hecklist (attempt a restart); (D)eclare an emergency (use current ATC freq or 121.5 MHz); (E)xecute/(E)vacuate (before landing, unlock doors and windows, check seatbelts, turn off electrical equipment once flaps are set; execute landing). Alternately, PLease START: (P)itch for best glide speed; (L)anding site chosen, (S)eatbelts (fastened, and cabin doors unlocked); (T)roubleshoot (attempt restart with checklist); (A)pproach (head for landing site); (R)adios (declare emergency); (T)urn off (everything electric before landing once you have the flaps you need in).
  • We went over the question that was killing me, which was 'describe the boundaries of a Class B airspace, and how to use landmarks and navigation to determine the edge.' This question was making me crazy because Class B airspace doesn't have a standard shape or size, it depends on the particular area. What they wanted me to do was explain how to use a sectional chart to determine a Class B's borders and ceiling/floor, and then offer an example of picking landmarks from that airspace or a VOR/DME nearby to remain clear or approach properly.

Then we went flying. The weather was perfect, clear blue sky and winds below 4-5 knots, variable. We had to fuel up N12732 as she'd been left with only around 5-6 gallons per tank, so my CFI got the tow cart and we pulled her over to the fuel stand. I'd never used our fuel stand, so he made me do it - attach the static lead to the airplane's exhaust, grounding it; then put the airplane's fuel smartcard into the pump, tell the pump that (Y)es we grounded the plane, unreel the hose, turn on the pump, set up the ladder and fill the wing tanks. Inevitably, because I had no idea how fast this pump is, I sprayed avgas out of the right wing tank and all over my shirt and the wing top, which my CFI gravely informed me was a necessary learning experience to make me carefully check from now on how full the tanks are both visually and using a dipper. Lesson learned.

A chance comment brought an interesting trivia answer - I mentioned to my CFI that this plane always seems to have slightly less fuel in the right hand tank, with an increasing differential as it empties, indicating uneven flow. I wondered whether there was a standard drill that required the right-hand tank to burn more, perhaps engine-out drills which included flying off a particular wing tank. He said no, but it was likely that people fly '732 uncoordinated more often - since it's a basic instruction airplane - and that also it did a lot of pattern work. Pattern ops involve lots of left-hand turns. Both of these would mean the right wing tank is higher, and this might be enough to make it feed a bit more.

Afterwards we fired her up and headed out to do more pattern work.

Did four circuits and landings today. I'm better at ending up near the right airspeed, and I'm better at the final touchdown (flare gradually rather than all of a sudden to minimize floating and ground roll, learn to look at the runway and not the instruments sooner in the approach - fly it by eye once you know you've got the runway made). I came in high and fast at first, and we determined that while I was being more proactive with my flaps, I was turning base early, so I was approaching the runway with too much height (and thus speed). Tried to fix that, and did better - ended up wide on the downwind, and was angling back in to correct when my instructor noted that I was "doing an awful lot of control fiddling." He was right.

Third and fourth landing we worked on 'smooth' - as in minimizing control inputs all the way around the pattern. He noted that it's like driving - you learn by doing conscious adjustments, and as you get used to flight, the corrections required become automatic - and you learn that probably 90% of those corrections weren't necessary, the airplane will settle itself out. Didn't make the first turnoff at all today, but that's OK - I was working on ensuring I had the runway made early enough to stop yerking around with throttle and flaps and just land it by eye. I ended up having to use full flaps twice - not great - and still ran long, so I'm still fast and maybe still a bit high.

But we kept up a nearly natural conversation the entire time today - during flight, during runway ops, etc. - talking about random things. This tells me my cockpit management and flying is getting more natural and requiring less of my concentration. Not less attention - but less fierce concentration. This is how it should be; fierce concentration should only be necessary when things are going wrong or maybe at the very last part of landing!

Still fighting with one last doctor for medical reports for the FAA. Here's hoping I get this worked out soon, jeez. I can't fly next week - I'm on travel for work - so that'll give them some time to get their act together.