Traffic Jam at Kilo 1

With another lesson booked for 9:00am on the 16th, I was once again paying close attention to the forecasts during the week. By Thursday lunchtime things were looking a bit dodgy, with talk of thunderstorms and heavy rain. The met reports began to pick up slightly on Friday morning, and the thunderstorms dissapeared from the METARS, to be replaced with PROB40 SHRA. In the end, Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, with wispy white clouds several thousands of feet higher than any airspace I was likely to be flying in. As I drove round the airfield perimeter road, the windsock was hanging limply from its pole with hardly a murmur of wind to disturb it.

I arrived to find the CFI was the only one in the office but the kettle was nice and hot! Must try and remember to take some cow juice with me next time, I detest powdered milk!

As per Adrians instructions after the previous lesson, I’d got myself an AFE checklist for the PA-38, so as soon as he arrived, I got kicked straight outside in the cold to pre-flight the aircraft for the first time on my own. I managed to avoid either slipping on the grass or banging my head on the top of the door this time – anyone who has flown a Tomahawk will be familiar with ‘nutting the door on the way out’ syndrome, due to the way the doors curve inward over your head.

Once we were happy that everything was as it should be, we climbed in. The first job was to get the aeroplane re-fuelled. As it was stone cold, the engine needed 4 squirts on the primer prior to turning the key and I discovered that the thing needed so much pressure to get it to slide back in that I was starting to wish I’d brought a sturdy mallett along with me to help. Despite this little niggle, Mike-Delta proved to be quite easy to start from cold, so we had a healthy draught going in no time. The first new experience of the day came when Adrian said he wanted me to do all the radio calls this time. I’d always been pretty confident that I knew the R/T procedures, but after making the call ‘Shoreham, Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta’, and getting the bog standard ‘Pass your message’ reply, my brain just siezed up completely for a few seconds, before I managed to blurt out that we were a PA38 parked in row 3 and we’d like to taxi to the pumps please if that was alright. Cursing myself for managing to sound so incompetent on my first go on the radio, I tried to respond a little more promptly and crisply to the next call and we trundled over to the pumps to fill up.

Having got my head together a bit with the first set of calls, the next lot were much better:

Shoreham, Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta

Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta, pass your message

Golf Bravo Yankee Mike Delta is a PA38 at the pumps. We have Charlie and 996, 2 persons on board, request taxi for a VFR flight to the west

Golf Mike Delta, taxi via the Alpha taxiway to holding point kilo one for runway 20, surface wind is 210 degrees at 5 knots.

Via the alpha taxiway to kilo one for two zero, 210 degrees 5 knots, Golf Mike Delta.

…and that was it, I’d finally got to use the radio during a flying lesson!

My taxying was hugely improved over last time, mainly due to my having twigged that you don’t have to steer the aeroplane entirely using the toe brakes! I did, however, make the extremely embarassing gaffe of turning the yoke like a car steering wheel whilst turning the aeroplane, which for some reason Adrian thought was rather funny. His laughter set me off, and between us we giggled our way up the taxiway like a couple of schoolgirls.

We turned into wind for the power checks and I busied myself with the checklist, wiggling this, waggling that, pressing the other, until all the necessary tasks had been completed. I apparently need to get my finger out next time and do the power checks a bit more quickly – as we turned round to continue to the holding point, I was dismayed to find that there were 3 aircraft all waiting in a line behind us – I could almost see the pilots impatiently drumming their fingers on their knee boards, thinking ‘flaming studes!’. We stopped at the holding point, and just as I was about to press the button to call ready for departure, the radio chose that moment to get extremely busy, with everybody and his dog seemingly wanting to tell the tower their life stories. I eventually got my call in, got cleared to line-up then waited patiently on the centre line for permission to take off.

I was a little slow in applying full power, I estimate that we’d already rolled about 100 feet before I had the throttle more than two thirds open. Runway 20 is nice and long, but that’s not the point…I found myself zig zagging a little bit up the runway due to putting too much right foot in then over-compensating with the left. We managed to get off the ground without any major dramas though, and headed out over the coast.

The main objective of todays lesson was to be to get used to climbing and descending with one and two stages of flap set, attempting to maintain a given airspeed and/or a given rate of descent, this, of course, being precisely what the pilot needs to do in order to control the aeroplane during the landing.

I was a little more relaxed on the controls than last time, although I still found myself chasing the ASI rather than patiently setting attitude then waiting for airspeed to settle before looking to see if any further adjustment is needed. Adrian had me climbing at both Vx (best angle climb, 65 knots) and Vy (best rate of climb, 70 knots) and although the airspeed difference is only 5 knots, the amount of nose-up pitch required with a clean wing to maintain Vx was suprising. I managed okay with the normal climbing and descending, although I found myself consistently forgetting to apply carb heat prior to commencing my descents. The sequence was always the same – quick turn off to one side to clear the area under the nose, put hand on throttle, think to self ‘bugger, forgotten it again’, move away from throttle and apply carb heat before moving hand back to throttle. At least I was being consistent!

The most fun was doing practice landings – I’d start at around 2500 feet, apply carb heat, reduce power and simultaneously pitch up to maintain height while the airspeed dropped off. Once the ASI hit 70 knots, I’d feed in some nose-down pitch to get established in the descent, varying pitch in order to control airspeed and power setting to control rate of descent. Adrian would call out a rate of descent such as 300 feet per minute and I had to try to get the aeroplane to descend at that rate whilst maintaining the 70 knots airspeed as closely as possible. He’d then tell me to apply one stage of flap and keep the descent rate and airspeed the same, followed by which I’d have to apply the second stage of flap, and still keep the airspeed and rate of descent steady. At some random point, Adrian would then call out ‘go round!’, whereupon my response was to open the throttle pretty smartish, knock the carb heat off whilst pitching up and aiming for 65 knots, wait until a positive rate of climb was established, retract one stage of flap, get the pitch and airspeed settled back down, check that we still had a positive rate of climb, retract one more stage of flap, keep climbing up to 2500 feet, then pitch the nose down and allow the aeroplane to accelerate to cruise speed, throttle back to cruise power and trim for level flight. Then do it all over again…and again…and again.

It sounds quite dull and boring put like that, but there is a lot to be thinking about and concentrating on, so the hour goes by quite quickly. I need to make a concious effort to get the firt stage of flaps retracted more quickly when doing the go-around. I’m spending too long watching the altimeter for a positive rate of climb – I should simply check that there is some upwards movement in the needle, then retract one stage of flap.

All the climbing and descending came together as we joined the circuit overhead the field to land back at Shoreham. Adrian really laid it on thick. This was my first time handling the controls in the circuit. I had the check list open on my knee and Adrian was giving me grief about my FREDA checks and at the same time reminding me that the downwind leg was not a good time to be spending too long reading the checklist. I was running slowly through each item on the list while listening to the radio and trying to maintain a mental picture of where the other 3 aircraft in the circuit were in relation to me. Trying to keep my eyes out of the cockpit as much as possible in order to look out for the other traffic, yet also trying to pay attention inside the cockpit in order to maintain height and airspeed, I found myself very quickly at my limit in terms of workload, and Adrian had to operate the radio for me as I fed in a stage of flap and tried to make sure we turned in the right place for base leg. I extended my base leg too far past the centreline and had to compensate to get us back on track. As we tracked the centre line on final, it began to dawn on me that Adrian wasn’t showing any sign of taking the controls back off me, so I realised with a quick adrenalin rush that he was waiting to see how I handled my first attempt at a landing! I concentrated on aiming for the runway numbers, and held my breath as we started to descend the last 100 feet to the ground. As it turned out, he took the controls off me at the very last minute, due to a Cessna not vacating 20 as quickly as it might have done.

I’ve no doubt that Adrian is planning on getting me to try a landing for the next lesson, as he wants me to sit down and learn the pre-landing and downwind checks so that I can do them from memory next time without having to look at the checklist at all. I also have to read the bit in Thom vol 1 about medium level turns and climbing/descending turns. Should be fun…

Getting Serious

7:10am, Saturday October 2nd 2004. The day had finally arrived. I pushed myself out from under the duvet and peered through the bedroom curtains. Broken overcast, a hint of sunshine and some very occasional patches of blue sky greeted my bleary eyes. Satisfied, I jumped back into bed and went back to sleep for a while.

My first ‘proper’ flying lesson in far too many years was booked for 1:00pm and I’d been like a kid waiting for christmas for the past fortnight. The weather over the past few days had been looking none too promising, with lots of rain and high winds to herald the end of the summer.

I got out of bed for real when the kids woke up at 8:30 – to my horror, it was now very windy and had obviously been raining. As we went through the usual family rituals over the course of the morning, the weather improved again and I felt quite hopeful as noon rolled around. I had no need to take anything with me apart from my kneeboard and a pair of sunglasses. I had put said items in a safe place together with the car keys as soon as I’d finished breakfast, but couldn’t stop myself from checking every half hour to make sure they were still there. The clock watching was getting silly, and by 12:05 I’d had enough and announced that I was going to the airport. It’s only a 20 minute drive away, but I didn’t want to risk being late, or getting stuck in traffic, or having a puncture…you get the picture, I’m sure.

I almost burst into tears when, 5 minutes after pulling away from the house, the thickest, blackest, most meanest-looking bit of clag I’ve ever seen came rolling in from the west and began to dump it’s contents all over the surrounding countryside. I was pretty much convinced that there’d be no flying for me that day, but I decided I’d go to the airport anyway and see what was happening. As it turned out, the rain was fairly short lived and was followed by some sunshine and scattered marshmallow style clouds in amongst some lovely blue sky.

Upon arriving at my chosen flying school, I was introduced to Adrian who was to be my flying instructor. We retired to one of the offices and went through my previous flying experience. Some of the questions Adrian asked me left me with the feeling that maybe I didn’t know quite so much about aviating as I thought I did. The main objective of todays lesson was to be climbing and descending both with and without power.

Briefing over, Adrian found me a dog-eared PA-38 checklist out of the lost property cupboard and we walked out to the aircraft, G-BYMD, a lovely little green and white Tomahawk.

We spent quite a long time on the pre-flight inspection and Adrian made it clear that I needed to pay attention, as he’d be expecting me to do it myself after todays lesson. Everything seemed fairly straightforward, except that I slipped on the wet grass and fell flat on my back as I tried to duck out from under the wing after checking the port landing gear.

We climbed into the cockpit and latched the doors shut. After sorting out the knot that the previous student had left the harness in and adjusting accordingly, Adrian helped me go through the prestart checks. At last, we were ready to go. Three squirts on the primer, throttle cracked open just a tad, then a twist of the key and the engine burst into life. So that’s one new achievement – the first time I’ve started an aeroplane myself.

Adrian copied down the ATIS while we waited for the T’s & P’s to settle down. He called ATC for our taxy clearance and manouvered us away from the other parked aircraft and onto the taxyway, then called out ‘You have control’. First thing learned about the Tomahawk – it’s a bit more skittish to taxy in wind than a Warrior. Despite doing my best to follow the yellow line, I was all over the place. I’d love to have been able to hear what was being said in the tower as they watched our progress to the holding point…

Once up in the air, we recapped on primary and secondary effects of controls and trimming for straight and level flight. We then started on the exercises that Adrian had briefed in the office earlier. Adrians first comment to me was to become a mantra for the rest of the lesson – “Keep your eyes off the instruments and out of the cockpit!”. The view over the nose was considerably different to Keefs Arrer and even to the Warrior I’d been in on my birthday, and it was making the attitude hard to judge. I ended up trying to compensate by chasing the ASI and AI, which meant leaving the altimeter to it’s own devices. Eventually I’d find I’d dropped or gained a few hundred feet, so I’d try to fix that by pushing the nose down, which meant losing the airspeed, so I’d get that back, only to find we were now wing down or 20 degrees off heading, so the altimeter got ignored again while I chased the power setting, ASI and AI all over again. In short, I spent a good 15 to 20 minutes just mushing up, down and around between 2,000 and 3,500 feet, at any random heading between 180 and 350 degrees.

I ended up so rattled at my seeming inability to keep the aeroplane under control that when I turned in my seat to check behind and below, I inadvertently pitched us up and simultaneously rolled us to the left by a considerable number of degrees about each axis, the first time I’ve ever been so ham-fisted with the controls of an aeroplane, and also the first time I’ve actually frightened myself in the air.

Adrian told me to bring us around so that the nose of the aircraft was pointing at Hayling Island, then he briefly took the controls to get us trimmed up at 3,000 feet. His next challenge was to have me descend to 2,000 feet and attempt to maintain a 500 fpm rate of descent at 70 knots IAS. This didn’t get off to a good start as I forgot to flip the carb heat on – luckily, I realised what I’d done immediately and corrected it before Adrian had time to say anything. With the inlet ahead of us as a reference point, my standard of flying seemed a little better and we ended up at something like 2040 feet with 75 knots on the ASI. I adjusted power with a concious effort to listen to the engine note instead of eyeballing the RPM guage and we settled back into the cruise on heading and at the right altitude.

As the last treat of the day, Adrian had me playing with the flaps in straight and level, climbing and descending flight. I was still finding it hard to judge the attitude properly without looking at the panel, so my descents in particular went west once more as I began another battle with “instrument panel-itis” and started playing “chase the ASI” again. I think the final straw was when I took 2 stages of flap straight off after a descent without getting the airspeed and attitude under control first. I think we both realized that my brain had got to the ‘overload’ setting and would probably start dribbling out of my ear if we carried on. We called Shoreham ATC for rejoin and Adrian took the controls back for the circuit and landing, which turned out to be less of a drama than we had expected, considering the crosswinds.

We shut down and made our way back to the office and had a fairly lengthy chat about how the lesson had went. I’m booked for another hour on October 16th, and by then I need to have got my own PA38 checklist and read up on a few chapters in Thom Vol 1, so that we can cover climbing and descending turns and perhaps stalling if the weather is okay.