Flying blind

The weather was mostly nice today. Visibility wasn’t the best, but no worse than most of my other lessons. Winds were calm, which is always nice. I rode my motorcycle, which was uneventful but fun as always.

We had 333 again today, but this time the vacuum pump had been fixed so all the intruments are working again. Which is a good thing since we did some instrument flying today.

Pre-flight was fine, as was the radio call and taxi out to runway 3. I have yet to take off from runway 21, but it was the first runway we used on my first lesson. I drifted to the left slightly on the climbout, but nothing too significant. I don’t think it really matters unless you’re at an airport with parallel runways, but it’s always nice to get it right.

Gene wasted no time in getting in to some instrument work. He has this pair of tinted, smoked screen glasses (hood) for me to wear so that I can’t see out the window, but I can see the instruments. It was a bit difficult to get used to because of the excessive tinting, so the instruments were especially dark. Surprisingly, it didn’t bother me too much that I couldn’t see out the window, but I suppose it was a little unnerving. He had me do several “standard rate” turns, which are 15 deg. turns, using only the instruments. I had to keep it level, but because I had been doing so much steep turn work, I had a tendency to pull back too much and we ended up climbing.

To make things interesting, he threw in some simulated ATC instructions to climb/descend and turn to a given heading. I managed pretty well, with the exception of misunderstanding one of his instructions to head to 030. I thought he said 300 instead of 030. We talked about those being confusing some times, especially given the plane number ends with 333! “Three three three, heading zero three zeo, climb to three thousand.” Yikes, I need a pencil.

After a 0.2 hours of that, I took the hood off and we went to something new and exciting: spiral dive recovery. Gene started with a demo. We got into a 45 deg level bank and then started talking about how pretty everything was out the window below. Before we know it, the plane is descending at 1,000+ fpm (feet per minute). The response is to level out the bank, then pull back to maintain/gain altitude. If you pull back first, the plane will tend to steepen the bank and just make things worse, including the possibility of one wing stalling followed by some nasty plane attitudes. I tried it a time or two; it’s really not that difficult, so I didn’t have any problem with it.

Since I had troubles with the power on stalls last time, we worked on a few of those again. It was much better this time as I didn’t fixate on the instruments. Incidentally, power on stalls simulate what might happen if you stall after takeoff, when you have full power and may exceed the maximum angle of attack.

We then worked on power off stalls. This is to simulate what should happen every time you land. The ideal landing ends with the plane going as slowly as it can a foot or so above the runway until it stalls and falls to the ground itself. We picked an altitude that was to be the ground and simulated the descending approach, roundout (change from descent to level over the runway), and flare (raising of the nose to keep the plane from descending as it slows down). Then, the stall. Since there was no runway to catch us at stall, we had to do a stall recovery: nose down a bit, full power, nose back up, and flaps up when we get to a good climbing speed. I did ok; nothing especially difficult about it except for maintaining the simulated ground altitude without an actual ground to reference.

It was getting dark, so we started to head back. We had a little more time, though, so I put on the hood again and we did some more instrument work on the way back. Since it was dark, it was even harder to see the instruments, but I managed.

As we approached the airport, I took off the hood, headed downwind, turned base, then final. As we crossed over the threshold, Gene said that since it was dark, he would take over and finish the landing. “Oh… wait… well… No. That’s fine, go ahead… I’ll help.” Whoa. I wasn’t quite prepared, but I quickly followed up with the roundout and then screech! We touched down rather smoothly, but before the flare. Not a “bad” landing, but not what should’ve happened. Perhaps next time I’ll be prepared in advance to finish up.

We taxied back without incident and I added another 1.4 hours to my logbook.

The uneventful motorcycle ride home was fun; night riding is always mind consuming, but I enjoy it.

The club’s ground school starts tomorrow. Should be fun.