Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Checkout Flight Today (and what a day it was!)

Russ has been wanting to fly with me so that he feels comfortable letting me fly with his students. We decided to go up this morning to get on the same page and have a little fun. Arrived at the airport with coffee in hand and walked down to the maintenance hangar. After about a week of clouds, rain, and lower temperatures, it is again wonderful outside. I want to sit in a chair on the sidewalk and soak up the sun, it has been such a long and miserable winter. Anyway, I walked into the open hangar where Russ was putting a new flashing beacon in the top of the vertical stabilizer of a Beechcraft Bonanza. We chatted for a few minutes while he finished up and then headed down to the plane. There were a couple guys with a very nice-looking Cessna 150 (new paint and wig-wag lights in the wings) who needed some oil. Russ took care of them while I got our Cessna 172 ready to go. Unlocked, check the papers and the cockpit, lower the flaps in prep for inspection, make sure the gauges work, untie the wings and tail, inspect the exterior surfaces, brakes, engine and prop. I pulled the plane over to the pump with the tow-bar (a handle that attaches to the front wheel) and started pumping gas. The breakaway joint in the gas hose is leaking a little bit, so I got gas on my hands and the plane, but no big deal. The plane was really thirsty, it took 24 gallons to fill the 38-gallon tanks.

I jumped in the right seat, and Russ in the left. We taxied to the runway, with a quick stop at the hangar again for Russ to grab his headset. After a standard set of checks, we took off into a perfectly calm sky on RWY 26. As soon as we were about 800' above ground, he pulled the power to idle and tested me on a simulated engine-out. This is definitely his style, and I was fully expecting the exercise. I made it back to the airport a little high - I could have balled it up and walked away in a real emergency, but we decided to go-around for another attempt. I was a little rusty in this area, again too high on the approach. The next time, Russ tried it and was a little more successful - flew a nice approach all the way to a landing in the grass.

I love grass takeoff and landing, and haven't really done it since last fall, so today was a real treat. All in all we did 2 takeoffs and 3 out of 4 landings in the grass. On takeoff, you get the nose up as soon as possible so it doesn't drag on the grass. When you land, it is a lot more satisfying, and the turf cushions the wheels to where it feels like touching down on a big mattress.

After some more of this, we headed out to the maneuvering area to do some air work. I was supposed to demo slow flight, which is one of my strong suits. We flew around with the flaps fully deployed with the stall warning buzzer just barely going off for a minute, then did a slow climb and some shallow turns. Then we did something I've never seen before, and must assume that higher-performance planes would be a little less forgiving of. Ever heard of steep turns at 41 knots in a 172? I have! What a cool experience, it almost seemed like we were scooting backwards our turn radius was so ridiculously small.

On the way back to the field, Russ pulled the power on me again - and I had to admit that he had caught me by surprise as I looked around for a suitable place to set it down. The local terrain is rather hilly, but there are a fair amount of cultivated valleys and roads to set down on in a crisis. The plane probably will be done for, but the people will be OK with several hundred feet to slow down in. I picked one and set up the approach, which worked out great.

Back at the field, we chatted about the flight, instructional technique, and the business. All in all, it was a productive day, and I am fairly well positioned to have more and more people to fly with as the school gets busier this spring. Clear sky, warm air, dry grass, and a couple of guys poking holes in the sky for proficiency and fun. This is the aviation I signed up for!

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