Helluva software engineer

Flight Lessons 2018-07-29 - First pattern work

Last week I passed a pre-solo test, but ceiling was too low to do any flying. This week, however, the weather was gorgeous. Few clouds at right around 3000 ft, but great visibility. My flight instructor and I headed up to the practice area to do some simulated IFR work, then to Orange County Airport in New York for some traffic pattern work.

The numbers

Today’s flight

There was another TFR over the airspace to the south of the airport, so we had to be aware of that. Winds favored runway 06, so we climbed out and made a turn to the practice area.

We wanted to cruise at about 3000ft, but there were some clouds right on top of us. VFR weather minimums for Class E airspace state that we should maintain 2000 feet horizontal, 1000 feet above, or 500 feet below any clouds. I mentioned this, and my flight instructor said that the FAA knows you don’t have a good means to judge cloud distance, so you should just maintain a reasonable distance. I asked if he could take a picture of the clouds with my phone, and he did. I later sent the photo to my wife.

Once over the practice area, my flight instructor pulled the power out and we simulated an engine failure. As a reminder, the engine failure procedure is:

  • Airspeed: pitch for Vg (best glide rate – 68kts in this airplane)
  • Best place to land: identify a nice field or road
  • Checklist: go through your memory item engine out checklist:
    • Fuel selector valve to both
    • Fuel shutoff lever in the in position
    • Mixture rich
    • Fuel pump on
    • Magnetos on both
    • If the propeller isn’t spinning, try cranking the engine
  • Declare an emergency
    • Radio to 121.5 if you aren’t already talking to ATC
    • Transponder to 7700
  • Execute an emergency landing

If time permits, get out the paper checklist and run through more troubleshooting steps.

We fed in more power and climbed away at about 1,300 ft. Amusingly, CloudAhoy thinks we were making a missed approach at a little agricultural heliport.

After that I put on the hood and did a few maneuvers, and my instructor demonstrated a cross-controlled stall. This is when you kick in a lot of rudder at low speed (e.g. left rudder) and use the ailerons to counteract any roll (e.g. right aileron). Pilots sometimes get into this situation if they’ve overshot the runway on a base to final turn and they’re using a lot of rudder to get out of it. You essentially put the airplane into a slip, so that the body is producing a lot of drag and the wings aren’t working very well. The stall horn squeals, the plane buffets, and eventually it stalls. The Cessna 172 being what it is, it stalled very gently, and recovery was entirely undramatic. We fed in power and climbed away.

My instructor also showed me an emergency descent. We climbed to about 4000 ft through a nice hole in the clouds, then we pulled power out to idle and pitched for about 120kts, making 30 degree S turns to reduce lift.

After that, we flew over to Orange County airport, KMGJ.

It’s a little easier to land at Orange County. There are fewer hills, the trees are shorter, the runway is wider and longer, and it’s easier to spot from the air. I’ll have to see if I can get a picture of it from the plane one of these days.

We flew over the airport, descended to pattern altitude, and entered the right downwind for runway 26.

That approach was okay, not great. I need to work on maintaining altitude. I have a tendency to drop below pattern altitude, which leads to kind of a sloppy approach. I wind up having to feed in more power on the base leg, which just gives me more to do overall.

The landing was solid. I need to work on my landing flare – specifically making it less of a flare and more of a “keep the plane off the ground” motion. Also, the ground sneaks up on me. I don’t quite have a good mental picture of how far below me the wheels are. That will come with time.

We taxied back to runway 26 and flew the pattern once more.

Here are some notes I coped from the last post about what to do in the pattern.

  • Traffic pattern
    • Turn crosswind 300ft below pattern altitude
    • Downwind at roughly 2000 rpm
    • Once abeam numbers
      • 1500 RPM
        • 10 degrees flaps
        • Pitch for 80 kts. Aim for 500 fpm descent
    • When numbers are 45 degrees behind you, turn base
    • Base - 20 degrees flaps - 75 kts
    • Final - 60-65 kts - Full flaps when runway is made
    • Keep pattern turns no greater than 20 degrees of bank

The second time around was a little better. I need to start proactively thinking about these steps. Right now my instructor is reminding me what to do. I suppose that’s to be expected right now, but there’s room for improvement.

Orange County was interesting. There was another 172 in the pattern, and a couple of planes were arriving and departing while we were there. I felt like I was actually communicating with people over the radio.

Finally, we were running short on time, so we flew back to Greenwood Lake. The flight there was pretty uneventful. Because of the TFR we decided to go against best practice and enter the pattern from above the airport as opposed to overflying the airport and doing the teardrop entry like we did at Orange County. I flared a little too high and the plane bounced once, but it wasn’t a terrible landing.

Overall, I’m happy to finally have done some pattern work. I have three landings under my belt, including two at a new airport!

One thing I learned is how useful it is setting the runway heading in the heading bug in your heading indicator (the pointer that rotates around the heading card). When I was flying in the pattern at Orange County, I was able to verify that I was turning in 90 degree increments, perfectly parallel and perpendicular with the runway. That really helped me keep my pattern neat, and kept me oriented with the runway even when I couldn’t see it.