Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Camera, and Flight Training in a Cardinal

I got a new camera, primarily to keep in the flight bag. If I can remember to snap a shot or two, I'll have lots of pics to post here. The camera I ended up with is a Samsung TL 105. It was relatively cheap, optical zoom, and it takes really good quality pictures (12.4 megapixel).

Here are a few shots of an airplane I flew the other day, along with that story...

I have been getting to know Tom, a local pilot who owns this beautiful 1967 Cessna 177 "Cardinal" with a 150hp O-320 engine, the same engine in the Skyhawks I usually fly. He hasn't flown it for a while, and asked me if I would help him get familiar with it. Once he checked with his insurance company to be sure that I am covered to fly it, we finally took it up late last week.

This plane flies very differently than most Cessnas, so before we flew, I made sure to ask several more experienced pilot instructors about it. I was told that if flies more like the small metal Piper planes like a Cherokee. I've got some time in a Cherokee Six, and to land it, you must not flare the plane like a Skyhawk. I was told that the Cardinal also must not be flared. OK, easy enough.

After reading up on the Cardinals in general, and going through the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) for this specific plane, I felt fairly confidant about my ability to handle the plane. We started up, and did a long run-up and high-speed (20-25 mph) taxis up and down the runway, so the owner could get used to the ground handling, and also so the engine could get up to operating temp. The plane was in the shop from May 2009 to March 2010, and has only ran twice since (the ferry flight from the shop, and a run-up for about 5 minutes back in March), so we wanted to check the engine out fairly thoroughly. Once we were comfortable with the plane, we lined up, held the brakes, applied takeoff power, leaned for best power since it was a hot, humid day, and then we took off.

My first impression of this plane was that it accelerates climbs like a dog, even though it looks very slick, and has a lot of speed and drag modifications. My second thought was that it handles like a dream. We weren't going up too fast (much worse than a Cessna 172), and we were 180lbs below max weight. Still, out in the practice area, the roll response was great, it was light on pitch, and was an all-around fun plane to fly. We each did some steep turns, climbs and descents at various power, airspeed, and flap settings, and various stalls - all in preparation for the coming landing. One thing I noticed was that the thin, slick wing has very different stall characteristics than what I'm used to. A 172 will mush and slop all day, the 177 has a clear and definite break, even in gently-approached power-off stalls. When the wing is done flying, it is done. It does not hang on to its lift during the stall.

We came in, joined the traffic pattern, and started our descent. We had briefed the landing several times, both on the ground and in the air, and did so again while on downwind. "Remember, we don't flare this plane like a 172, we just barely keep the nose off the ground, and drive it in with power. Coming down too fast? We will add power, and touch down with a little power." Sounds good, and I was excited and happy with the approach and round out. Everything was just picture perfect, all the way down to the flare. The owner-pilot, quite understandably after almost a year off of flying, reverted to the Cessna 172 training, and pulled back on the yolk, faster than I could have reacted. This happened right as our airspeed was bleeding off in the flare and the plane should have been settling. As it was, we were about 6 feet in the air still. Remember how that wing, when stalled, gives up all at once? Well, it did, and we came in fairly hard. After a nice porpoise/tail strike, we caught our breath and taxied off the runway to inspect for damages.

I was really embarrassed. This incident was probably the first time that my inexperience as an instructor caught up with me. A more seasoned CFI would have had the yolk blocked, so that the other guy couldn't have flared in the first place. As it was, we both got a very vivid lesson - him about how the Cardinal likes to be flared and me about always being ready for anything with anybody. I've been told that the most dangerous thing a CFI can do is trust their client or get distracted. That lesson has been hammered home.

As we are looking over the nose and tail, a golf cart comes over with another one of the FBO's CFIs, an office regular, and the owner's wife. Apparently the landing looked as bad from the FBO porch as it did from the cockpit. I was kind of afraid that Tom would be mad at me, but he wasn't at all, and felt like he had learned a lot from me from startup to shutdown. We found no damage, and decided to go up again for another attempt.

Very soon, we found ourselves on final approach again, and this time I definitely had the yolk blocked with the palm of my hand, but Tom was making all the control inputs. I was just a little more ready to take control if needed. We came over the fence right on altitude and airspeed with about 1300RPM. Held the yolk steady, brought the nose up to its straight and level position as we crossed the runway threshold, and slowly brought the power to idle as the plane settled to the runway with a gentle chirp of the wheels. It was truly one of the most perfect landings I have ever seen - in any plane.

We called it a day, tied the plane down, and talked about the flight there on the porch. The owner was still very happy with me, which (frankly) surprised me, I was still very embarrassed. He wants to fly again, and thats OK with me, I know we can both handle the plane. One of the mechanics based on the field checked the plane over for us, and confirmed that there was no damage at all, except for some scuff marks on the tail skid, just like every other plane on every ramp of every airport in the country. We are planning on flying together again in a week or two, right now he is tied up with work.

This flight has caused some drama between the various CFIs at the school though, and I sort of feel like someone sat there that evening and watched me do something they knew would get me in a little bit of trouble. Nothing much came of it, but office politics seem to be coming to a head, and I'm (thankfully) not really in the middle of it.

In other news, Francis (the first guy I put through a private license) called, and has a couple of his friends who want to learn to fly, and he is going to set them up with me. Thats great, because I get to keep any customers I bring in, whereas people who just walk in the office door get assigned according to seniority. I could definitely use one or two more guys all to myself, its been an unusually slow week (though one of my guys just "graduated" and the other is on vacation, so things should be back to normal soon).

Look forward to more pictures soon!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just graduated from Pitzer (Claremont Colleges), I've flown out of Cable a bunch of times, nice little airport. I'm sure you could find some people at the 5Cs who would be interested, let me know if you need help posting fliers or dealing with staff, I know all that stuff. Good luck!