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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!