Friday, May 21, 2010

Night flying is fun (but take lots of flashlights)

I've had a busy couple days, flying-wise. Yesterday I flew with the student that has been assigned to me, after about a two week break, and was surprised that there wasn't really any rust for him to knock off. Its funny, I'm starting to observe different strengths and weaknesses in the various students. This one can stall and flare, the other can nail the steep turns and has better coordination, etc. So far though, its a lot of fun for me to work with these guys. My student is just starting to work on landings and, even though I had to make a small control input here and there during the landing flare, he has the approach portion down like a pro, its pretty amazing (to me, at least). That went well, and we are going to start working on maneuvers and landings in the same lesson, rather than really only focusing on the maneuvers. He is sometimes prone to getting air sick. I have been looking for some kind of solution for him, but I'm thinking that perhaps we found it yesterday. By 2pm, the day was starting to warm up (finally!) after a long, cold, overcast morning. We were taxiing around with the windows opened, like normal, when I mentioned something about maximum window open speed being equal to the never exceed speed. The client thought it was a great idea, let's fly with the windows open. Sounded good to me, I like doing that also. We stuffed all the loose items into bags or seat-back pockets and took off. To tell the truth, I was a little chilly, but we certainly had plenty of ventilation, and the windows fall closed when approaching a stall, which is another cool "hint" to point out to the learner.

Now, on to the flight that inspired this post's title. The guy who wants to fly every day and get his license before the end of June has had to work a little late the past couple days, so we decided to go ahead and do a little night flying. He is almost ready to solo, so it has been very productive, and flying at night gives us a lot of things to talk about, like optical illusions, risk management, judging the approach, flight planning, equipment, weather, etc. Anyway, two nights ago we went out and just got in three stop and go's before we decided to quit before the fog formed. We could see big, stringy masses of fog starting to roll out of the valleys into the river/city/airport areas, and the temp was rapidly approaching the dew point.

That flight went well, and he wanted to get a lot more night practice, so he would feel more confidant in the dark. We went up again yesterday evening, planning to head over to a nicely lit uncontrolled field with a visual glide slope (VASI), then go to the local controlled field to see their approach lighting (except their approach lighting is broken), then make the 5th and final landing back at home base, which has low intensity dusk to dawn lights only, and trees at each end of the runway.

Things were going well. There was a very high overcast, visibility was about 8 miles, and the city lights made good references to navigate by. We started doing stop and go's at the big uncontrolled field, but my student wanted to come in high and fast. I think it was probably subconscious, due to being unfamiliar with the airport and a little uncomfortable with the darkness. We worked on it some, and got 3 landings over there. We were going to do one landing at the towered field, then head home. I believe we were both starting to get tired by 11:00pm, and his last touchdown was the worst of the evening - we landed very long, I asked him if he wanted to head home, but he wanted one chance to redeem himself at the towered field, so we went around once and landed again. This one was much nicer, but as we were taxiing to takeoff again, our landing light winked out! This has happenend to me so many times that I was exasperated more than anything, but I could tell that he was a little unnerved by it. After all, to get home we would have to fly over trees and land in a dark field at 70mph with no headlights. Well, it sounds a lot more dangerous that it is, I was planning on making him land without the light anyway, just in case it ever happened to him for real. In my limited flying time, I've had to land without it several times (in addition to training), and once had to land with only that light - the airport lights were inoperative.

Anyway, I reminded him of the lights-out techniques we talked about before takeoff, and said "let's go home." We took off, using only the sight picture of the runway lights, and climbed out normally. Entered the traffic pattern at home base, and started letting down at the normal location. Without a visual glide slope, he had to judge the approach based on the shape of the runway lights, and look for obstructions based on being able to see (or not) all of the threshold lights. As it turned out, the approach was not as high or as fast as the others, and the flare and touch down (judged only with peripheral vision and the apparent height of the edge lighting (along with just a tiny bit of coaching) was the smoothest of the night. I think it was a very good learning experience for him, and he is all ready for his night cross-country flight later on in training. For now, we will hammer out the other types of landings by the light of day, and I have the feeling I'll probably be recommending him to solo sometime this coming week.

Flight instructing - never a dull moment!

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