Solo practice, finally

I’ve had to cancel one or two other solo flights since my XC. I’ve canceled so many in the last two months that I’ve lost count. I think it’s about ten… every one of them due to wind. One of them I canceled after getting to the airport and finding the wind was much higher than predicted. At least that day was nice enough for a motorcycle ride, so it wasn’t a total bust.

Today, however, it was mostly clear with some clouds at around 10,000 feet and the wind was not bad enough to keep me from flying. Sanford was reporting calm, but I now know that’s hardly a reliable indication of reality. Surrounding airports reported some wind out of the northwest, but even those weren’t over club maximums, so I was finally ready to get some solo practice.

I was in 40B. Since my last “calm” wind flight didn’t work out so well, I made a lap around the pattern to make sure this wouldn’t be a repeat. It wasn’t. It was a little turbulent, but not as bad as during my XC and I didn’t have any problems keeping on course. There was enough of a crosswind to require a side slip on landing, and that went very well. I touched down smoothly on the left main gear first, making for a great start.

After that touch and go, I climbed out and headed west to the practice area to work on steep turns and turns around a point. I also planned on going to Siler City for some short and soft field landing practice.

After reaching and leveling out at 2500 feet, getting up to 100 knots and leaning the mixture, I heard a disturbing sound… a muffled pop, followed by a continuous loud air noise. It didn’t take too long to figure out that the right door had popped open. It has opened several times on Gene, but never during solo. I specifically opened and slammed the door shut during preflight to make sure it wouldn’t do that. So much for that. Not panicking, I put my papers on the floor so they wouldn’t get blown out, even though the door was barely open. I tried to push it open and slam it shut, but to my surprise, I couldn’t open it more than about an inch. I guess 100 knots of wind was too much. I slowed down and trimmed to fly level at about 65 knots so I could try again. I spent about two minutes trying to open and slam that stupid door to get it to stay. Every time I closed it, I gave it a slight bang to check it, but it opened every time. I finally gave it one last slam and decided to just leave it at that. It didn’t open on me again, but it irks me that the club doesn’t fix that.

The door being open isn’t really dangerous itself. It makes it noisy in the cabin, but as I discovered, the wind will keep it pretty well shut and the people are strapped in. It would be impossible to accidentally fall out. However, it was a distraction, and any distraction could lead to other bad things. I think I’ll bring this up to the powers that be. I don’t want to have to explain to my already nervous passengers… “Oh, your door might open in flight, but don’t worry…” 40B isn’t so much my favorite anymore.

After that fiasco, I did a clearing turn and set up to work on steep turns. One to the left, one to the right, another to the left, another to the right. Wow. All four were within test standards; I didn’t lose/gain more than 100 feet and I finally rolled out right on the mark.

It was time to work on turns around a point for the first time since Gene showed me the procedure. It had been so long that I forgot some of the details. The wind seemed so inconsistent that I couldn’t figure out from which direction it was coming and thus didn’t know what direction to start the turn. I tried a few times to guess, but they didn’t work out at all. I think I need some more instruction on that one. Instead of wasting more time on it, I headed over to Siler City.

After flying around looking for points to turn around, I wasn’t sure exactly where I was. Visibility was very high, though, so I could see Sharon Harris and the 3M plants easily. I decided to try to find out exactly where I was by looking at my chart. I was crossing over power lines with a noticeable curve in them and found that on the chart. A look around and I found Siler City not too far to the west.

I called UNICOM, but got no response. No problem; the winds seem to favor runway 4, so 4 it was. A normal landing, touch and go, followed by a short field stop and go, a soft field touch and go, and then another short field touch and go. They all went pretty well; the plane sure drops fast with full flaps. I was satisfied, but I wish I’d had time for a few more rounds.

As I headed back to Sanford, I enjoyed the scenic route over Hwy 64 as I had before. About 10 miles out I heard a plethora of radio calls around Sanford. I’d never had so much traffic at once, at least not while solo. I think there were five planes total, not including myself, either taking off, landing, in the pattern, or approaching the airport. I paid close attention to where they were and called my location at 6 miles out. It worked out fine, though I did have to extend my downwind a little for someone on a straight in approach to runway 3. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with radio communications around non-towered airports. I know what to say, when to say it, and am able to create a visual image of where everyone is and what they’re doing. Sometimes pilots aren’t as clear as they could be, so I’ve tried to not be one of those.

I was running a little late (though nobody had the plane after me), so I had one last landing. I decided to do another short field landing and it went very well. I stopped short of taxiway E, which I believe is within test standards.

After 1.4 hours, I now have 46.9 total and 7.2 solo. I hope to get a few more of these in before my night dual XC.