Pre solo with Chief CFI

I’ve been looking forward to this flight for some time, but the weather was not looking favorable. I was hoping for some smooth flying weather, but what I got was a low ceiling of about 3,500 with scattered (more like broken in my judgement) clouds around 2,500 to 3,000. Winds were pretty high at those altitudes, but it wasn’t too bad on the ground; just enough to give a little crosswind and require the use of runway 21.

I made it to the club in time to do the preflight before George showed up. It sprinkled briefly, and the clouds moving by looked like they could’ve opened up at any time, but that was the only sign of precipitation during our lesson time. I was able to scedule my preferred plane, 40B, but it happen to have a malfunctioning transponder, so it had been taken out altogether for repair. I knew from recent reading that for what we needed to do, a transponder was not required, so it wasn’t a problem.

George was running behind, so I had some time to sit and sweat a little wondering how well I would do in this kind of weather. After he showed up, we spent a few minutes chatting. “So, what do you think of this weather?”, he asked. “I don’t like it.”, I responded. I continued by stating my knowledge of what was going on and that it was legal to fly VFR, both by FARs and the more restrictive Club student pilot solo regulations. “To tell you the truth, if I were going to solo, I probably would not go, especially this early in my training. But, with the additional judgement of a CFI, I’d be comfortable with it.” George said he could go along with that decision and we decided it looked good enough to try to get some flying done.

We headed out to the plane and chatted some more on what brought us both to the world of aviation. It helped me relax, but there was much work ahead. I went through the usual startup process and taxied out to 21 as George wrote some notes on my pre-solo evaluation sheet. I tried, but I couldn’t read his writing from where I was. I’ll just do what I always do.

We made it to 21 and I asked about the recommended heading for doing a runup. I was never clear on when it should be into the wind and when it should be where landing traffic is more visible. He said that with a plane this small, the wind isn’t an issue. If it were, it would probably be too much to fly in anyway, so a runup where traffic is more visible is almost always better. But, that doesn’t mean the other is wrong. I fumbled a little through the runup, but I don’t think it was noticeable to him; it’s just usually more fluid than it was.

We took off and remained in the pattern for a couple landings. The first pattern was a little sloppy. I haven’t had as much practice on 21 (not that it should matter, but it does feel different) and the winds and my nerves were agitating factors. He said I did fine, though. The first shot at a pattern when you don’t know what the winds are going to do won’t be perfect. My approach started a little high, so I backed off on the power, then realizing the wind was holding me back, I added more power. The landing was pretty decent; on the center line, but not otherwise noteworthy. We stopped on the runway as George discussed the dos and don’ts of a touch and go landing. Basically, don’t be in such a hurry that you forget to clean up the plane for takeoff.

On climbout, George took the plane so I could “rest” as he talked more about general stuff. I took over on downwind. My second approach was a little better, and the landing was again on the centerline and smooth enough.

We headed out to the practice area to work on some maneuvers. He actually took control of the plane pretty regularly for longer periods of time than Gene ever did, so I got to watch and listen as much as I got to demonstrate what I could do. It became increasingly relaxing, though we still had to deal with the clouds. He spent a significant amount of time relaying his thoughts on the maneuvers and the primary reasons for practicing things like stalls, spirals, very slow flight, etc. The bottom line is to be able to recognize each situtation and know how the plane will respond… and more importantly how to make a bad situation good in a hurry.

I started with a couple steep (45°) turns. Both went well, he said, as he gave me a few more pointers on how to do them with ease. Power off and power on stalls followed. They went pretty well, too. Again, George had a few more pointers about them and emphasized being able to recognize and understand the situation from an aerodynamic perspective and what is required to recover. To illustrate this, he spoke of what’s called a secondary stall. This happens when recovery from a stall is attempted too abruptly, causing the plane to enter another stall. The secondary stall will always be uncoordinated. “We might roll a little”, he said just before demonstrating the stall. A little was an understatement. As he recovered too quickly from the initial stall, the plane stalled again and weeeeeeeeeee… we rolled into a roller coaster dive followed by a smooth recovery to level flight. That was what Gene had done before that nearly cost me my lunch, but since I’d already experienced it, I was able to enjoy it this time. 🙂

Next was a spiral dive recovery, which was pretty simple. I was expecting him to pull the power at any time for a simulated power-out emergency, but he decided to head south of the airport to find a better field. Gene and I hadn’t flown in that area at all that I recall, so I wasn’t familiar with the fields. They’re all the same, though. He asked me how we had been doing them, so I told him all the steps involved before actually doing it. He shared a helpful mnemonic to help remember the steps: ABCDE… A=airspeed, B=best landing spot, C=checklist (for trying to restart the engine), D=declare emergency (to someone so they can call 911), E=execute (or prepare for exiting — get dangerous stuff out of the way and get ready for a rough landing). I’ve seen variations of the meanings, but the first two are the most important.

George pulled the power over a pretty large field. Since I already knew the wind direction from the really large windsock to the north, otherwise known as the Sharon Harris cooling tower and the vapor blowing out of it to the northwest, I went through the checklist. I got to about 1,500 feet above the ground and had to decide if I could go around again or not. I chose not, so I made downwind, base and a too high final. I noticed I was high early, though, so I hit full flaps and a hard forward slip to lose altitude. It wasn’t coming out as I’d hoped; still too high, but I was lined up on the field such that I could’ve turned a little and gotten more landing ground. We would’ve made it. George called success and a go-around.

Then, he said we were done. It was my plane, so take us in. Uh…. we were southwest of the airport and I knew we needed to land on runway 21. I told George we hadn’t flown in this area before and since I wasn’t 100% sure of how I should get in the pattern, I asked where I should go. His answer… “well, you’re the pilot.” Great. Ok. Yes. It is great. I put on my larger confidence hat and proceeded to 2,000 feet heading to west of the airport. I called on the CTAF my location and intentions to fly over and do a descending turn to enter the 45 for runway 21. George didn’t say anything, so I assumd that was fine. I probably should’ve gone further from the airport before descending because I had to entered downwind without much of a 45 beforehand. Not bad, though. My approach was so-so, and my back was starting to hurt, so I was looking forward to getting on the ground. “Why don’t you go around.” Doh! Ok. So, I went around. He just wanted to make sure I could do it without trouble; my approach didn’t call for it. It’s an important thing to do and do well, as I did. My final pattern was about the same as the others, but my approach was even higher than before. I dropped to idle power on final and hoped the wind would give me time to descend without needing a slip. It did, sort of. We landed a little long after a not-so-hot roundout and a little extra power to keep us from dropping too hard, but I managed to salvage it and it was again on the centerline.

We taxied back, tied down, and went in to chat some more. He went over what we covered and said that I did well over all. There wasn’t anything major to talk about, just little stuff that needed practice as expected. He did like that I landed all three times on the centerline, which he said was unusual for someone at my stage. I agreed. It is unusual. 🙂 We talked more about the arrival to the airport and my decision to cross over. He said it was a perfectly good decision and that he chose that location to see how I would handle it. There are a number of other ways than what I did, but they each have pluses and minuses. There are, however, some particularly dangerous ways to handle it. Crossing in front of departing traffic at the wrong altitude too close to the runway is a bad idea, which I knew, and is why I hesitated about approaching the airport from our location.

In the end, George said that he wouldn’t have a problem with me soloing this afternoon. That’s all I needed to hear. I arrived expecting more of a test and ended up with an excellent 1.6 hour flight lesson sprinkled with some evaluation of my skills and knowledge.

Now that I’ve hit a whopping 31.2 hours total, I expect my next lesson to include my first solo. I’m glad I have life insurance. 😉