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Friday, October 2, 2015

Aerobatic How-To Videos

Hello Fellow Aerobats! With some extra time on my hands, I've started to create some how-to videos for the basic aerobatic figures. I'll initially post these to my Dropbox account, and will only give access to those that I've flown with (or those I'm fairly confident won't try these on their own in a Cessna 172 or some other non-acrobatic category airplane just above the runway... famous last words, "Hey, watch this!"). The first one is "The Loop," and it's available on the Dropbox Video - The Figures folder. There will more to follow, so stay tuned. Hope your summer was good. With fall coming, and some nice, cool dense air, the Decathlon comes close to flying like the Super on a hot day! Blue Skies!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year: New Goals

Here it is: If we don't challenge ourselves as pilots, our skills ebb, our proficiency flat-lines, or worse, declines. Little used skills get rusty, frustratingly so, potentially to the point of being dangerous. A low-cost solutions is to go back to some of those exercises we had to be proficient at for our Private, Commercial, or Instructor certificates. Download a copy of the Practical Test Standard on the FAA web. If you've forgotten how to perform an activity, grab a copy of the Airplane Flying Handbook, also free on the FAA web. Study it, chair-fly the activity, then saddle up and do it. Still hesitant, find your favorite instructor, or look up another instructor, someone with a fresh view, and "git 'er done."

Here's another option: Add a rating to your existing certificate, e.g., seaplane, instrument. Another route: Pony up and move to the next level: Private Pilot to Commercial, Commercial to ATP. Granted, migrating to a new certificate is not for the faint of pocketbook, and it takes a serious commitment. This is not to dismiss the instrument rating, which also calls for a serious outlay of cash. A Seaplane rating comes in at about $1400 in a Cub, $1700 in a Husky, or $3500 in a Beaver (we sure like the animal names for airplanes...), not to mention your travel and lodging. Expand your horizons, it'll help your everyday flying, give you new perspectives, new experiences, new friends.

Speaking of new friends, Jonathan Derden recently married at the Gordonsville Municipal Airport (GVE), an excellent aviation photographer, snapped this pix of Aero Enterprises' Decathlon.
I thought the spiffy reflection a nice touch. Jonathan's other work can be found on Jetwash Images. Very nice stuff, Johnathan!

Okay fellow pilots, go out there and challenge yourselves! Add a rating, add a certificate, and I'd be remiss if I didn't tout the offerings of Aero Enterprises: tailwheel endorsement, upset recovery, spin training, and my favorite, aerobatics! Have a great New Year, be safe, have fun.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pre-Flight Inspections

We all perform preflight inspections on our airplanes (right?). Check the fuel, check the oil, walk around the airplane, peering into spots when able, moving control surfaces, looking at tires and brakes (when wheel pants aren't in the way). I started using a flashlight when I saw an air carrier crew member walk under the wings, looking up into wheel wells far above his head, using one of those Maglight flashlights. Lighting inside the hangar is usually far from adequate, so the flashlight seemed like a no-brainer. My preflight checklist identifies an inspection of the cabin: Cabin door, flight controls, mag switches, fuel quantity, fuel shut-off valve, seat belts, ELT, loose items for aerobatic flight. That's it. Not near enough for me. The front pilot station has the occupant's legs a foot below an inverted fuel tank that has five fittings/lines going to/from the tank. Five opportunities for leaks. Of course it's dark up there, thus the flashlight. Always a part of my preflight is having a look at each fitting and line for fuel stains. Never found one in the many preflights I've done. That is until a few weeks ago!
This rascal had a blue stain on it. I took a wrench to see if it was loose. Whoa, that crack you see above, turned into a gusher! It was a fairly quick fix to replace the fitting. However, had I not seen the crew member peering up into that wheel well many years ago, I probably would have missed that cracked fuel line, with potentially disastrous results had it decided to let loose while aloft. Take your time on those "routine" preflight inspections, go the extra mile to ensure you're seeing everything critical to safe operation. Consider that flashlight!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Unconventional Recovery

Some (a few, well, maybe one) of you are familiar with the spin recovery acronym PARE. That's Power to idle, Ailerons neutral, full opposite Rudder, Elevator through neutral (and once rotation stops, rudder to neutral and recover to level flight). This procedure was a result of NASA spin research in the 1970's and is often referred to as the NASA Standard recovery that works for most all single engine, light airplanes. Other procedures work, too. For example the Beggs/Mueller goes like this: 1) Power off, 2) Remove your hands from the stick/yoke, 3) Full opposite rudder until rotation stops, 3) Neutralize the rudder, 4) Recover to level flight. Every airplane will respond differently and the procedure for recovery for those airplanes approved for spin is contained in the Flight Manual or Pilot Operating Handbook. While both procedures I note above work effectively in the Decathlon, a more unconventional, and some NOT RECOMMENDED inputs work also. Here's how one example goes: With plenty of altitude (5,000' AGL and above), enter a spin, let's say to the left. Allow the spin to develop past the incipient stage (Stages: entry, incipient, developed, recovery). While in the developed phase, add full anti-spin/out-spin aileron, i.e., full right aileron in our example. After a couple more rotations the less stalled wing's (right wing) drag increases enough (as a result of upward deflected aileron) to reduce the left-yaw component that propagated the spin enough to stop rotation, uncoupling yaw and roll. One then neutralizes rudder and aileron and push the elevator through neutral (to break the stall) to recovery. Once again, not recommended, but an interesting aerodynamic experiment (at altitude, in the Decathlon). Come on out to Gordonsville International and we can get you used to all phases of spin (especially the recovery phase)!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Back to the Basics

Recently I flew with a pilot, commercially certificated with a couple thousand hours, that has been exclusively flying his airplane, a Cessna 182, for the past three years. Admirably, he decided to pursue a tailwheel endorsement to improve his skills. The Decathlon is not a particularly difficult airplane to fly; but certainly different than a C182. It's not as stable, bordering on neutral dynamic stability and has more control authority (inputs produce instant results about all three axis). The Cessna is robust, stable airplane with comparatively slower response to control inputs and its dihedral tends to return the airplane to unbanked flight with little or no input (depending on the upset). So clearly these two airplanes require the pilot to operate each differently. The exclusivity with which this pilot operated his airplane probably makes him a pretty good C182 driver, but when faced with the change to the Decathlon, caused some grief. Seeing this pilot's troubles, primarily with airspeed control (you know, the stabilized approach yields a good landing -- some caveats apply), I stressed airspeed control. What was surprising is this fellow was unable to capture airspeed. Hmm, I was momentarily dumbfounded (I find this more and more as I get older). How can a 2000+ hour pilot not capture and maintain airspeed? It's simple, the same way a beginning, low time student pilot does--failure to attitude fly the airplane. You probably remember this or some rendition of this from your initial instruction: Attitude + power = performance. But if you replace attitude with airspeed (which is performance) you get Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, that is, the pilot tries to capture airspeed by exclusively watching airspeed. We know there's a lag in what that instrument tells us, so to get a more instantaneous response, we increase the pitch input, but we then overshoot the target, and provide input in the other direction, resulting in pilot induced oscillation. The fix is simple, go back to the rudimentary "fly the windshield," making small corrections out front, and crosscheck the airspeed indicator. Twenty minutes of constant airspeed descents from altitude fixed the problem. In this case, taking a few steps backward, back to the basics, moved us closer to the goal. I hope to see you out at the airport!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Almost a New Year | How About a New Skill?

We're in count-down mode to the New Year, and with that some believe that resolutions are in order. If you subscribe to that process, I'm with you. It's always a good time to fix what's broken, learn something new, expand that envelope. I can help with that process, whether it be a tailwheel endorsement, some acro, upset recovery, or spin training. Now's a good time to honestly check your skill sets and see where improvement is warranted. I'm reminded that hours in a logbook does not equate to proficiency nor competency. You may have done xyz two years ago, and it looked good then, but the expression, "what have you done for me lately" applies to aviation as it does to any skills-based activity. We're charged with safely making aviation each time we fly. Often we get a false sense of security when our mission is take off from point A and fly and land at point B. You may have done an ok takeoff and landing, but statistically, it means little. Try seven takeoffs and landings and make the assessment. Okay, enough pontificating. Happy Holidays to any reading this. I hope they are safe and you and your families are blessed and the New Year is a good one for you.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Spin Training

Holy Smokes! It's clearly been a while since I last posted, so this one is overdue. Couple months ago, a youngish (anyone one under 50 qualifies) fellow came to me wanting some spin training. Mike is a 30-hour student pilot, avidly working on getting Private Pilot credentials. I think it's a great idea, seeing and experiencing spin entry, exit, and working at some of the common pitfalls pilots gravitate towards that leads to trouble.

 Lesson 1 of my three-lesson spin training syllabus reviews some basic airmanship skills, e.g., "dutch rolls," slow flight, power off and on stalls, and then moves to those that are no longer required by the FAA for Private Pilot training: accelerated maneuver stalls. Also in this lesson we cover the "falling leaf" maneuver: A power off stall which is held, keeping the wings level with only rudder. Then it's on to one-turn, upright spins.

This is reviewed in lesson two, along with two-turn spins, and then on to the real-world business of scenario-based spins. This is where (sadly) the rubber meets the road (or field, or other terrain). The base-to-final turn is a serious gotcha, as even if one figures out what's going on, 500 feet or there abouts, is not enough altitude to exit the incipient spin. A good reason to practice this stuff at altitude, in a spin-approved airplane, and with yours truly. One has to really work at coupling yaw and roll and adding stall for the base-to-final faux pas, but it's often an eye-opener when properly (or improperly, depending on your perspective) executed. Mike and I also set up the "impossible turn," the nefarious departure leg, engine-out, gotta-get-this-thing back to airport scenario (at altitude), and for a low-time pilot, he did excellent! He "unloaded" the tail/elevator, got the nose down, and cranked the airplane around in a 45 degree (and maybe a wee bit more) banked turn, managing to line up on our imaginary runway centerline before busting the "hard deck."

The final lesson were reviews of upright one-, two-turn spins, and then into multi-turn spins(5 turns was the goal, but sometimes they went an additional one or two turns). The piece de resistance were inverted spins. We flew a half-loop (airspeed is slow at the top of this), then it's stick full forward, and kick fully rudder. Ideally these are recovered from in a single turn, maybe two. They're uncomfortable, your eyes feel like they're being forcibly pulled from their orbits, and the hand of nature is trying to remove you from your seat. Mike took a little too long to recover on these, and got his feet mixed up (he added opposite rudder, and little late, saw to recovery, then put pro-spin rudder in) and we went around a number of times--yeah, I lost count. After about three revolutions, the Decathon's inverted spin tends to flatten out and it becomes Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I did call for control of the airplane, applied out-spin rudder, and that rascally airplane took it's time in the recovery (another two turns). Of course we did this up at 5,000' AGL, and we had much room to work with, recovering about 3,000'. I like to allow pilots some room for error; however this time, I may have allowed things to progress a little too far. So it was certainly a learning experience for Mike, and one for me, too.

Spin training is great stuff for all pilots. It might require you to screw your courage up a notch, but the experience will go a long way towards making you safer, more confident and knowledgeable, and a better aviator. See you at the airport!