Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Stage Check... Part 2-- and Three Airplanes!

In my last post, I mentioned that I needed to finish the complex portion of my stage check prior to taking my commercial checkride on Monday. So I arranged to fly with one of the higher ups from our flight school on Saturday. But first-- I flew two other aircraft!

For me, this is sort of a big deal. I have roughly 315 hours in our Cessna 172... and about 12 hours in the Arrow (to get my commercial) and about 2.5 hours in other Cessnas. So I still get pretty excited to fly other aircraft. Saturday morning, after a particularly draining session with our trainer at the gym, Husband and I went out to the airport. Our plan was for me to demonstrate the commercial maneuvers to Husband (he'd not seen them before), land at MRB to get an oil change, and then I'd fly another plane back to JYO in time for my stage check. After taking a few looks at the weather, we launched into cloudy skies and headed over the ridge.

I started out by demo'ing the "steep" steep turns (i.e. 50 degrees +/-5) required for commercial. It was fun to see Husband's reaction. I've been practicing these since September (lots of delays!), so I've kind of forgotten the thrill that you have the first time you go beyond normal 45-degree steep turns. Next, I did a few chandelles (basically, a climbing turn where you start at cruise airspeed, and end up about 10 knots above a stall). Again-- he was fascinated. Then we did a couple of lazy 8s. This is the maneuver I've struggled the most with-- today was no exception. Not knowing the maneuver, he was also excited by these, though I was pretty disappointed with my performance. I did one set not quite to PTS, and one set that was just inside of standards- but neither were great. Finally, I finished up with a few 8s on pylons. By this time, we needed to boogie on over to MRB to drop off our plane and pick up the other.

The other plane was a 172-R (ours is a 172-S)... and was of course steam gauges. I felt somewhat daring-- this was the first time I flew a steam gauge all by myself (I was almost surprised that this was approved-- but then again, it is almost just like our plane, except for the gauges-- so I wasn't worried about doing a short, very familiar trip in the plane by myself). I preflighted thoroughly-- the plane had just had a 100 hour, I think... and called for permission to depart. As I climbed, I felt my stomach tighten just a little, but as I began to fly my way back to JYO, I relaxed a little. As a private student I had problems with navigation -- but as I've gained flying hours, my navigation skills have significantly improved-- and not just when using the fancy screens. Soon, I was approaching JYO and talking to another plane who was right off my wing. I let him know I'd slow down and let him go in front and sequence myself in behind. I never can understand when people know there's another plane right next to them and yet don't take proactive steps to sort our the sequence prior to entering the tiny little maneuvering area around the Leesburg airport.

On the ground, I had to get help from the line guy to push the plane back in place. At first I wondered if there was something wrong, but then I realized it was just pushing it uphill! Wow- that makes a big difference! I then hurried over to meet R, who was giving me part two of the stage check. I was a little nervous about this as I knew he is big into systems-- and I am not the most mechanical person. But he soon put me at ease and I really enjoyed the time we spent going through the electrical, propeller, landing gear, and other systems of the two planes (our plane and the Arrow). I looked at my watch as we finished the oral portion and was shocked to see we spent over two hours talking-- and this was in addition to the hour I'd spent with the head of the flight school. I then went and preflighted the Arrow for the flight portion of the stage check.

As I finished, R came out and did a walk around with me, pointing out a few more things that I didn't know about the aircraft (and a few things that I did). I'm always worried that I don't know enough about preflighting an airplane-- preflighting is usually something your instructor goes over only at the very beginning-- and then you're on your own. The problem is that as you learn to fly a given aircraft, your understanding of what is important changes as well-- but typically, we don't get an updated lesson on preflighting from an instructor. So I was happy to do this walk around with R to update my knowledge of the plane.

Instead of just a few times around the pattern, R had let me know to plan to fly over to OKV and back for a landing or two. Given that it had been a while since I had flown the plane out of the pattern, this made me a little nervous. But it was actually fine. My biggest problem was that I mixed up in my head which runway was 32 and which was 14. I knew we needed to land 32 given the winds... but for some reason I completely spaced and turned them around in my mind. A little prompting from R, and I realized my mistake, but it meant I ended up flying upwind, crosswind, and then downwind for my approach. 'Doh! You would think after the 30 or so times I did approaches into OKV during my instrument training that I would know which side is which without even thinking... but then, I guess that whole not thinking thing is what got me in trouble (as I do know how to identify the runway direction).

I think we did a shortfield landing-- though maybe it was a power off 1800 (I was so tired by this point that things are a little blury), and then headed back to JYO. Before we returned, though, we did an emergency gear extension and R had me turn the master off completely (yes, we were outside the Mode C ring). I've never flown an airplane without any power before (it always seems too risky to do in our plane because so much is controlled by the G1000). It was very strange... and for some reason, seemed very quiet. I'm not sure if this is because the Arrow's radios tend to hum and squeal when they're on-- or if it was my senses confusing the fact that the screens were all black and colorless (i.e. quiet) with the auditory condition. In any case, I was happy to have the power back on and let my breathing return to normal.

Back at JYO, we did a softfield landing-- apparently the examiner has recently failed a commercial student for not being able to properly do a softfield. That may have been my first time to do a softfield landing in the Arrow. It wasn't horrible, but given how much heavier the Arrow is than our plane, I didn't do a great job in keeping the nose up. So R recommended a little soft/short practice to make sure I could do them well. More on that in another post. Other than that, he signed me off to do the checkride. Woo hoo!

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