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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.