Needless Puppy Slaughter

There’s something about flying during the colder months of the year that seems to make the whole experience even more magical than it already is. The sky on a frosty morning looks hundreds of times bluer than in the summer and the marked reduction in the amount of dust in the air seems to add at least an extra 50 miles to the horizon.

Our objectives for today were to get the hang of medium level turns, followed by climbing turns, descending turns, recovery from a spiral dive and have a go at a landing. I felt quite pleased with myself when Adrian said that he thought that I’d be able to do the whole lot in one lesson rather than the 2 or 3 that most people take. Flattery always has worked well with me!

After preflight inspection and startup, I called for taxy and immediately got thrown by the fact that the clearance was for the ‘other’ runway, i.e. 02 instead of the usual 20. I fumbled when reading back the clearance and asked Adrian to confirm to me that I’d heard it correctly. Interesting observation that has literally just occured to me as I’m writing this – if I’d been on my own in the aircraft, I would have had to ask ATC to repeat the clearance, so why didn’t I do that instead? Hmmm…..

Anyway, shoddy R/T aside, we trundled away from parking and Adrian gave me the controls as soon as we were clear of the other aircraft parked on the same row. As with the last lesson, I found we were moving much faster than I felt comfortable with and had to slow down immediately, especially as we were catching up quite rapidly with a bright yellow Piper Cub on the taxiway in front of us. Unfortunately, the Cub was moving even more slowly than I usually go at, and I ended up at a most inconvenient power setting just to keep a safe distance behind him – it was not quite enough to keep the Tomahawk from slowing down on the tarmac, but opening the throttle any more had me catching him up again. I ended up progressing down the taxiway with little bursts of power, which didn’t feel very comfortable.

The takeoff was the now customary mild zig zag down the centre line, and we got unstuck at the usual 65 knots. The climb out was okay, for some reason I wasn’t having any problem nailing the airspeed this time, so maybe that’s one little nit that has finally ‘just clicked’ and gone away.

We headed out to the west and up to 2,500 feet to get started. One interesting little niggle that I found this time came when adjusting the DI – as I reached throught the yoke to twiddle the adjuster, I inadvertently dropped the right wing very slightly. Adrian looked at me with raised eyebrows and he reached over and deliberately unset the DI, saying “shall we try that again?”. I went through the process again with the same result. I had a sudden flash of inspiration and unset it myself. This time, I reached through the yoke with my left hand and bingo – no wing drop! Adrian was puzzled until I pointed out that I’m left handed – I clearly have much better co-ordination in the left hand than the right.

The left hand turns were easy enough once I’d worked out where the horizon sits in a 30 degree bank. For my future reference, it’s exactly on the rightmost of the 2 lines of rivets that run up the nose cowl. For the right hand turns, the horizon sits slightly above the join between between the 2 pieces of plastic trim that run up the left hand side of the cockpit.

After a few goes at right hand turns, I had those pretty much nailed. We went back to twirling round to the left, but this time with the objective of rolling out on a specified heading and all at once an interesting little bug started to bite which took me the rest of the lesson to get rid of – as I watched the DI get to within 10 degrees of the desired heading, I’d find myself twitching the yoke further into the turn before correcting and rolling out properly. Adrians comment was something along the lines of “I’ve never seen anyone have that problem before”.

After 45 minutes twirling about this way and that, Adrian was happy that I’d got the hang of 30 degree turns and we did some spiral dive recovery. For this exercise, he would bank us over to a least 50 degrees, push the nose down to let airspeed build up, take his hands off the controls and call “recover”. My response was to reduce power, level the wings, pitch the nose up to the horizon, hold it there for a second, apply cruise popwer, let the airspeed sort itself out and retrim. I was expecting the control forces required to be a bit higher than normal, due to the increased airflow over the control surfaces, but I was suprised by just how much more grunt was required to pull the nose up.

We began to make our way back to the airfield, doing a series of turns on the way. 30 degrees to the left, rolling out on the same heading as we started on, spiral dive recovery, climbing turn to put us back on our original heading, then 30 degrees to the right and rolling out again on the same heading. I was pleased to find that I’m getting to know the local area well enough that I knew immediately where we were each time I returned to straight and level. Worthing pier slipped underneath the port wing as Adrian called for rejoin and I suddenly remembered that I was supposed to try and get us safely back on the ground again…

The downwind checks seemed to flow more easily this time, mostly thanks to my wife grilling me on them all through the previous week. We did a left base join, which was a new experience for me – on the other lessons it’s been a normal overhead join. As we turned final and the workload crept up, everything started to go to pot again quite quickly. I was grossly overcontrolling the aircraft in an attempt to track the centreline accurately, forgot to monitor height and we wound up too low. Adrian started going on about watching the PAPIs, which irritated me slightly – they’re a great approach aid, but I don’t want to get into the habit of relying on them, since I’ll be a bit stuffed the first time I fly somewhere that doesn’t have any. Still over controlling, we descended to the numbers with the wings rocking back and forth like I don’t know what. I started to pull back on the yoke at what I thought was the right height, and we seemed to float on down the runway forever before touching down ever so slightly left wing down, to the accompaniment of “Holditoff, holditoff, holditoff…..” from the right hand seat!

As we taxied back to parking, I was thinking to myself that I hadn’t done too badly, all things considered, and was already making a mental list of what I need to concentrate on for next time. Bad mistake! We trundled across the grass and I swung us round next to one of the club Warriors and parked up quite neatly. Chopping the throttle back to idle, I set mixture to ICO and watched the prop wind down to a standstill. As I started taking my headset off, I relaized that Adrian hadn’t said anything and was looking at me with his fingers drumming on the top of the panel. I started to wonder what I’d done and quickly scanned the cockpit for evidence of any misdemeanour. Looking down at my kneeboard, I realised that my checklist was still open at the ‘After landing/shutdown’ page. Oh bugger. I looked back up at Adrian and he said “You didn’t fancy the shutdown checks today, then?” It was one of those “beam me up, Scotty” moments…I’d been so absorbed in thinking about my landing attempt that I’d completely forgotten to run through the proper procedures for shutting down the engine. It wasn’t a dangerous mistake to have made, only the puppies[1] suffered, but it did illustrate to me that being Pilot in command of an aircraft means being responsible for the safe and proper conduct of the whole flight, from the moment you first approach the aircraft with the intention of committing an act of aviation, to the moment you lock the doors and walk away. I think it’s fair to say that I won’t be making that particular mistake again…

Strangely, that last episode put a damper on the whole lesson for me, but I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to put down to experience, make sure you learn from it and move on. I had a little moan about it on the Flyer forums, and got a whole heap of encouragement and commiseration from the other SF’s (You all know who you are, thanks for the support!) I’m not sure at this point whether I’ll get a chance to redeem myself before christmas, we’ll have to see how the money goes in relation to the ‘gifts still to buy’ list. 🙂