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Hop #5

Today was a really nice spring day - bright blue sky, a few cirrus clouds, and a light (if variable and gusty) wind near the deck.

We spent the lesson today doing - surprise! - landings. Spent the whole time in the pattern. This makes sense - we're coming up on solo point, and my instructor is essentially just helping me evolve from 'capable of landing' to 'regularly lands smoothly.' Looked at that way, today was indeed a success, which is a good thing.

On the first takeoff, I had a 90-degree crosswind. Luckily it wasn't very strong; I managed to compensate (upwind aileron up, meaning upwind wing down; this produces a turning force on the airplane that generally counteracts the drift from the crosswind, especially when paired with opposite rudder). Since I was on climb out, rather than use left (opposite) rudder I could just use less right rudder.

Single-engine Cessnas, like many other single-engine aircraft with nose-mounted props, tend to yaw left on takeoff roll and climbout. This is due to several things happening in concert: P-factor, propeller slipstream, and torque. P-factor is the result of a clockwise-moving propeller in a nose-high angle of attack - in this condition, the blade moving downward (the right-hand one) has a better angle of attack and generates more thrust. This tends to turn the plane to the left. Propeller slipstream is the name for the condition where the air coming out the back of the prop ends up in a clockwise spiral as it slides back past the fuselage. When it reaches the vertical stabilizer (tail), that slight spiral means there will be force on the left side of the tail, which also tends to make the plane yaw left. Finally, the whole airplane wants (slightly) to roll to the left because the engine is turning the propeller in the opposite direction, and at low speeds the wings and stabilizers aren't generating enough force to completely negate this. Thus, the plane (again) wants to roll left, slightly, and that roll and moment produce (you guessed it) a yaw to the left. What does this mean for pilots? Well, generally, it means that during takeoff roll and during climbout in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk (among others), you will need to keep some significant pressure on the right rudder to counteract all this leftwards yaw. If you don't, you'll see the 'ball' in the turn-and-bank indicator slide accusingly over to the right, indicating that your airplane is no longer in coordinated flight, so 'step on the ball' - push the right rudder pedal down - and things should get back to an even keel.
Add that to a wind from the right, and the plane really really wanted to go left.

Once we hit 800 feet, I started my left turn for crosswind, squinting a bit at the sun which was dropping down towards the horizon as it was approaching 5:15 pm. The airplane was bouncing around a bit on climbout and turn, with the now-familiar 'swiveling' feel brought on from sitting right alongside the CG. I was somewhat absently keeping it in check with the yoke and rudder, but not thinking about it too hard (yes!) and managing to keep it at 73 KIAS (oops, 80 mph) which is 'best climb' in that Skyhawk.

Made the second left turn. "Northampton traffic, Skyhawk '732 is on left downwind for Three-Two Northampton."

My instructor waited until I'd finished the call. "I like to put carb heat in pretty much as soon as I make the downwind; I'm going to be pulling power out soon, and better to do it now than during the transition to approach speed, right?"

"Right." Put carb heat in. Checked over my left shoulder - "Hey, we're getting blown away from the airport - damn, forgot about the wind, didn't I..." Banked left a bit.

"We're almost ready to turn left base at this point. Maybe just slow it down a little quicker and fly a shorter base?"

"Roger. <click>Northampton traffic, Skyhawk '732 is turning base for Three-Two Northampton." As I spoke, added in the first ten degrees of flaps, pulled power back to fifteen hundred and waited for the speed to fall as I began my turn left onto base. Looking for 80 MPH on base; the airplane was stubbornly around 90. Pulled the power out further.

"What can we do to get eighty? You're already nose-high, right, and you pulled power out?"

Thank you, leading questions. "More flaps! Hooray..." Clicked down, got thirty degrees of the forty available, and felt the seatbelt shove slightly. "Yep, got eighty, turning final." Turned left again. Gee... "Hey, I think I'm high and wide."

"Yep, we got blown out, so you're long, and you let it stay fast, so you're high. What are you going to do?"

Thought about it, but not for long, while I wrestled the airplane so that the runway was just a few degrees off our nose to the left (hey, wait..) "Oh yeah, I've got a headwind *and* a bit of crosswind. The headwind means I'm going to take longer to get to the runway, so I'm going to sink farther, so I should just fly it down, maybe not put in the last ten of flaps, just use the wind."

"Yep. Do it." My instructor is a young guy, but he's got 'terse' down to a science.

"Okay..." It was a bit of a chore remembering to keep the nose down so as to maintain 70 MPH indicated on final, but I managed. As I got closer... "I'm a little short. Adding power." So I did, bringing the throttle back up a bit. This time, I was in tune with the airplane enough that I could feel it float as the power came on; the speed didn't increase but the angle of attack lessened, just like - "Hey, that's just what's supposed to happen!"

"You sound so surprised!"

We laughed. I continued to fly it down; when I knew I had the runway made, I pulled the power back out. Even though I felt like I was high, the headwind meant I was sinking rapidly as I moved north, and I flared out just above the runway numbers...held it...held it...Damn it! - the airplane floated right, despite the fact we'd been compensating for a 90 degree crosswind! I started to put in correction, but before I could really get back over centerline-


"Damn it. Well, I'm down, at least." I fought the plane a bit as I'd landed with the wheels not entirely pointed down the runway or the direction of flight; luckily, Cessnas are built with the assumption that they're going to spend their time compensating for us n00b pilots, and other than a bit of tire chirp the airplane didn't really react. Came to a full stop.

"Not bad. Yeah, see those trees back near the touchdown point? Yeah? Well, you come out past those trees, where there's open field, and the wind ALWAYS shifts there, I think there's some kind of eddy current around the trees. You got caught in that eddy, wheels still up and compensating right, and got blown out to he right, but you got it down. Okay, back-taxi and let's do it again."

So we did. Eight times around, including a simulated engine-out for number five. I have to confess, I prepped for that by casually asking on the downwind leg "If I lose power, what speed am I looking for for best glide?" I'm only a bit devious; I know the answer is sixty-five knots (seventy MPH in this airplane) but I wanted him to think about doing that to me when I was expecting it. Sure enough, next time around, he pulled power and looked at me as we floated down the downwind, the runway numbers directly under the left wing strut.

"Are you gonna turn?"

"I'm level with the end of the runway, I thought I should take it out a bit..."

"Remember, emergency. Do whatever you need to do to land it, and screw the traffic pattern if you have to. You don't have an engine; remember we've been coming out short and getting blown wide today, so maybe rather than working to land right at the runway numbers you should aim for something a bit further down just in case you lose speed or height on final, right?" Probably the longest single speech I got out of him today, but yep, he's right. Immediately started an abbreviated base-to-final 180-degree turn; as soon as I rolled the wings level and looked at the runway...

"Hey, that looks not bad, but I'm high..."

"If you're sure you're going to make the runway, then now's the time to use the flaps."

So I did, and damn me if I didn't bring it in smoother than I had all day, 1/4 of the way down the runway. As I waited for the airplane to slow, he said "That happens to a lot of people. Somehow the emergency means everything's simpler, you're not as concerned about what you might be doing wrong, and everything just comes out more automatic. Nice landing."

So I went around again. And again. And etcetera.

This time, I found, when I was taxiing the airplane back in to park it, I realized that I hadn't sweated. At all. I didn't have that nervous tension in my body. In fact, I was pretty relaxed, one hand on the yoke, watching around me without swiveling my head. We rolled back in and parked it, and I shut off the engine, and it felt-

-it felt, to be honest, a lot like turning off my car and opening the door.

Hot damn.

* * *

Of course, it's not all peaches. My solo will likely be delayed. The FAA Flight Surgeon's office sent me my letter telling me what I needed to submit to apply for a Special Issuance medical certificate, and contrary to what my medical examiner thought, they don't just want a letter about my blood sugar. Oh, my, no.

They want:

  • A typed report from my physician detailing my history, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of what they called my diabetes mellitus. Apparently, according to them, I'm on the drugs therefore I have the disease.
  • A typed report from my physician detailing my family history, my history, diagnosis and treatment of my hypertension (130/84 is hypertension to the FAA - well, if you're on losartan, that is).
  • A typed report from my physician(s) describing all effects, if any, of the above two conditions on my neurological, renal and cardiovascular health.
  • A typed report from my physician or opthalmologist detailing the effects, if any, of my diabetes on my eyes.
  • A set of lab tests of my blood with a long list of factors to test for which I won't bother going into but which included my LDL/HDL cholesterol and a bunch of things I'm not familiar with.
  • A report from my physician treating me for sleep apnea describing my history, diagnosis, prognosis, all treatment, and my 'compliance' with CPAP, with evidence thereof, including a subjective statement ("from the airman", which I guess is me) describing my CPAP's efficacy.
  • A copy of my most recent sleep study.
Oh yeah, and they want all this within 30 days of the date of the letter, which managed to take a week to reach me. Great.

So, I'm in New York City next week for work anyway; looks like I'll be seeing a couple of doctors and a lab as well.