Flyin’ in the Rain

After checking the weather last night, I was excited to see that the forcast for rain had changed to partly cloudy. However, when I woke up this morning, it was raining. I thought for sure my scheduled lesson would have to be canceled, but after checking AWOS and other aviation weather resources, the conditions were indeed VFR. It turns out that rain itself is no hindrance to VFR flight; as long as the rain isn’t really heavy, visibility through it is fine. Visibility was about 10 miles this morning.

I went out and started a pre-flight check myself… in the rain, but Gene came out shortly after and we finished it up quickly so we didn’t have to get too wet.

There were no other planes around, so the taxi, run-up, and takeoff were pretty quick. Once we were up to about 3,000 feet, I took over and practiced some more turns. I was a bit better this time around, but it’s still not quite second nature and I kept forgetting about the need for slight elevator after banking. Several times, after realizing I’d forgotten and we lost a few dozen feet, I would over do it and end up climbing a bit, though back to our original altitude. Gene said I was doing well, though, so I’ll take is word for it.

Visibility was a bit better than before, even with the rain, so I could see the horizon well enough to get a feel for where the nose of the plane should be at level flight and during left and right banks. I realized today that a “moderate” bank of 20-30 degrees feels really steep when you look down at the ground.

We worked on some slow speed turning as well; slow meaning 75 knots vs. the 100 knots cruising speed. It was mostly the same, so no real surprises. What was most fascinating was the process for going from a 100 knot level flight to a 75 knots level flight. Just a few simple steps, including a couple turns on the trim wheel, and the plane happily cruised along straight and level. By straight and level, I mean with no input to the controls. The ideal configuration is to be able to let go of everything and the plane not go up or down, left or right. More throttle and the plane goes up, less and it goes down. The elevator trim takes care of that. There is no trim wheel for the ailerons or elevators in this plane, but it seems it’s not really needed.

After working a little more on trimming, we headed back to the airport. The rain had picked up a bit and visibility appeared to be getting worse, but I think it was still above 7 miles. We (Gene) entered the pattern at the downwind leg (parallel to the runway in the opposite direction of landing). Then a left turn on the base leg, and another left on the final. All this time talking through and making throttle, altitude, and flap adjustments.

Less than half a mile out on the final approach, Gene let go of the controls to demonstrate that the plane was configured to descend at the proper rate with the proper airspeed headed right for the end of the runway. He asked me just after letting go, “What do you think?” I said, “It looks short to me.” I thought we weren’t going to quite make it at that rate, but he said we were right on track. By the time we got about 20 feet above ground, we had just crossed the threshhold. After a flare, and a few feet above ground, the stall warning came on and we touched down; an ideal landing.

The plane is so small for that runway, we stopped not too far past an exit, so instead of taxiing all the way to the other end, we did a 180 on the runway and a short taxi back. After clearing the runway, I took it all the way back to the tie downs and that was it for the day. I logged another 0.9 hours, so I’m up to 2.3 total.

Oh yeah… I finally got around to purchasing my own headset and they worked out really nicely today. Very comfortable, easy to adjust, did a great job of blocking out noise and the sound was very clear. Clear communication makes the lesson much more pleasant. The loaner headsets were okay, but they weren’t nearly as comfortable so it got a bit irritating during the flight. A headset is usually the first significant gear purchase a student pilot makes, and the selection is ridiculously large, so I spent my usual time researching and just picked something reasonably priced and that had good reviews from others. So far so good.

I’ve decided (with Aimee’s blessing) to try to go as many as three times a week. One weekday morning, one weekday evening, and Saturday morning… weather, instructor, and plane availability permitting. The more often one goes, the less time there is to forget stuff and it’s possible to finish in fewer hours. The FAA requires a minimum of 40 hours before taking the exam, but the average is around 60-65 hours before the student is proficient enough (presumably due to the need to spend a bit of review time when lessons are too far apart).

I’m scheduled for Wednesday morning and Thursday evening of next week. Next Saturday, Joseph is scheduled for DirtBike School. He’s been asking about it for years, so after much discussion we decided to let him give it a shot. Aimee and I will be attending as helpers only. Classes with kids at his age are limited to four students at a time, so there will be a lot of personal attention given to each student. Should be fun!