Thursday, November 6, 2008


With my instrument checkride complete, now I can focus on my commercial training. Last week, weather, a broken plane, and our plane unexpectedly going for a wash kept me from flying. But this week, I've done two more flights Three-Six-Charlie. I think I'm learning how spoiled I've been! Three-Six-Charlie is a 1981 PA-28R-201-- the airplane I'm using for my 10 hours of complex time required for my commercial.

It's very interesting, getting to know another airplane. I feel so sheltered-- having only flown one airplane all this time! It's sometimes a little hard to tell if I'm learning things that are new because it's a complex aircraft... or if it's just different from our plane. Flying Three-Six-Charlie is a bit like flying my dad's old suburban... which is not just any suburban, but a 20 year old, very well traveled suburban!

The first few flights in the airplane, I felt like a student pilot all over again. I wasn't sure which instincts to trust-- and which to resist. In the air, the plane felt like "an airplane"- i.e. I know how to level the wings, climb, descend, do stalls, etc. without too many issues. But I found myself worrying a lot about if I needed to adjust the prop, or if the throttle alone would give me the performance.

My second lesson in the plane, we did a little airwork (stalls, steep turns, etc.), and then headed over to OKV for pattern work. The first few patterns were pretty bad- I was definitely getting behind the airplane. I usually caught up in time for landing, but I really didn't like feeling behind. After a few circuits (thanks, Aviatrix, for that term! It's a lot more descriptive in this case!), I started to catch up a bit. The flow was getting easier to manage, and I wasn't needing to be prompted much by my instructor. Then, we tried a few emergency simulations-- power off 180s... Everything fell apart. I found us in a position where I was not sure if we were going to make the runway (without power), and we were still turning, and getting perilously close to the ground. In my head-- I knew to add power, but for some reason, I didn't add it-- or at least didn't add enough. We ended up landing hard-- and not in a way that I liked. After thinking about the situation and my actions, I have a few conclusions. One- be very clear about who is PIC. Don't fall into the trap that if there's someone more experienced in the seat next to you that they will take over or tell you what to do. Two- if you don't know how the airplane glides (at idle), be very ready to power up. And Three-Keep communicating either way!

My next lesson in the arrow went a lot better. I finally felt in control of the airplane. I was consistently flying the pattern without assistance from my instructor-- and had the rhythm down.

With my private instructor, I was given a relatively black and white set of procedures to follow... 90, 80, 70 with accompanying flaps 10, 20, and 30 degrees on each leg of the approach. But-- in that case, I didn't know what it was supposed to be like to land an airplane, so those rules were necessary to help me develop a routine so I could learn what it looked and felt like. Now, I know how to fly, and my instructor hasn't given me set rules-- but has rather been helping me figure them out. Over the lessons, we have been refining our approach profile-- in other words, what power, prop, and flap settings work best-- and when. I'm not sure if this is a deliberate teaching technique or if he just doesn't use those rules... But it's an interesting process to go through-- and I feel like I'm learning more than just how to fly the arrow.

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