CFI Training Continues and the Checkride Nears – For Real This Time

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I trained again for parts of the last two days at Benz Aviation at Ionia County Airport in Ionia, Michigan. Those just joining this saga will know that last week, after three days of flying in the front seat to get the hang of the Schweizer SGS 2-33A, Lee Larder promoted me to the back seat.  We didn’t fly on Wednesday because of the low overcast and we did the knowledge review instead. Thursday was devoted to more flying from the back seat to get the maneuvers nailed down and to build muscle and inertial memory.

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The back seat requires some gymnastics for ingress and egress.  But, once you’re strapped in, it’s a comfortable place to be.  I was slightly worried about the pedals.  I have short legs for a guy of my height (28-inch inseam), so I had to adjust the pedals in the front to the full-aft position to get enough purchase on them to be able to box the wake and do slips with authority.  The pedals in the back don’t adjust, so I was concerned that I’d have to add some padding behind me.  It turns out that the pedals in back are a perfect distance for me.  This is a good thing because adding a cushion behind me would likely have made it so that I could not get full-aft stick travel.  As it is, I have to sit up straight and get my back flat against the back of the seat in order get enough aft stick to have my stalls break in a concise way.

There’s a little shoving-around over there on the left side if I need to move the stick much to the left while the dive brakes are engaged.  Between the stick, the dive brake handle, and my trusty iPad, there’s a jumble of activity when that happens.  Conveniently, the iPad simply moves around there on the elastic strap and things tend to work out.

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The biggest thing about the back seat is dealing with the lack of visibility.  Mostly because of that head and shoulders directly in front of you. You get all of the visibility you need, but not a lot of visibility that isn’t essential.  I don’t know that I’d be able to give dual instruction to Bob Ross or Pam Grier. You can fly along with your head centered just fine in most cases.  You can listen for your airspeed and, at least in the early parts of the flight, have a pretty good idea that you have enough altitude.  If you need airspeed information, you lean right and look (at least when Lee hasn’t covered the airspeed indicator). The picture above gives you that sight picture. If you need altitude information, you lean left.  Landing doesn’t seem to be a problem, especially after you quit looking at the airspeed and get into the flare.  You just use a lot of peripheral vision.  And the Force.

The biggest issue is on tow in the normal high-center tow position.  It’s pretty easy to lose the tow plane under the nose.  I fly a little lower relative to the tow plane while flying from the back seat to keep it visible.  But, in turbulence. the tow plane can drop out of sight very quickly, which means that I’m being more abrupt than I’d like with a push to keep him in the windshield.  More than a second or two and I’d need to tug on the clown nose and release, but it hasn’t come close to that.

The only other visibility thing comes with slack-line operations.  We go out to the left to climb and then descend to put in the slack. Visibility is fine that way.  But it’s sometimes hard to see the amount of slack that you’ve developed because some of it us under the nose.  And the slack usually isn’t much.  The 2-33A is really draggy and, even with a big push, you don’t get going fast enough relative to the tow plane to put much of a smile into the tow line.

2-33A Back Seat

My biggest remaining issue is situational awareness (“SA”) and other larger-picture things.  On almost every training day, I make some blunder of thought.  Today, I somehow reversed the windstock and briefed a left turn in the case of a rope break.  In fact, the wind was from the right.  I also let us get low two miles upwind of the airport while preoccupied with maneuvering.  We made it back just fine, even if a little low on pattern entry, but I have discovered that finding yourself at 1,400 AGL two miles out and flying in sink is one of my least favorite things in aviation.

Lee commented that I’m doing very well, but he noted that each session has some element of SA fail.  I had sure noted  this and confessed it each time, and he’s a good IP and noted it, too.  But that’s why I’m out here training.  I’m gradually becoming a high-time pilot (for recreational GA anyway).  I’m pretty darned good at a number of things and I pick up on new things fairly quickly if they’re complementary with skills that I already have.  But that can also hide deficiencies that I don’t know that I have.  I would imagine that lots of higher-time pilots have this issue.  And the mission for which I plan to use my IP skills will skew toward experienced students who will do well enough at some things that there’s a risk of complacency about the needs that are masked by great performance in other respects.

You may recall that I failed my first attempt at the commercial ride because I blew through the stop point on the no-spoiler landing.   In training, I did very well on the no-spoilers, mainly because the winds were favorable and I got lucky.  Neither John nor I had any reason to think that I didn’t have the maneuver nailed.  Then, on the ride, the winds were different and I was not lucky.  No big deal.  I re-took the deficient parts a couple of weeks later and I’ve flown safely and effectively in gliders for 200 hours since then.  But it was a lesson that will color my own training and will affect the way I teach students, especially higher-time people who are transitioning.

It is critical not only that we train, but that we think about that training and make generalizations out of the series of experiences.  We spend a lot of time thinking about trees.  This is fine, but we need to think about forests, too.  Find patterns that tell you things about the way you fly and how to be better every single time.

Sometimes, the only way to find out about these deficiencies is experience.  You have to fly more than is strictly necessary.  If you’re doing it right, you learn something every time you go to the airport.

Lee asked me on the way back to the terminal whether I wanted him to sign me off for the ride.  (Holy crap!)  He allowed as how my flying is fine and that I just need to get the SA dialed in.  I’m probably under-confident and over-persnickety about the way in which I stand up for a checkride, so I told him that I’d like to fly a few more times before the ride.  He agreed.  We’re scheduled for next Friday and then Wednesday and Thursday the week after that.  Then, probably checkride the first week of June.

Lee’s a good guy.  He thinks I’m very nearly ready and he told me that he doesn’t want to take my money unnecessarily.  Not every IP would do that.  That’s a mark of a guy who really cares about general aviation and instruction.

So the plan is two or three more training days, then the ride.  Sounds like this weekend and next will find me in a series of Starbucks with a bin of manuals and ACs next to me.  Watch Twitter (@StephenForce) and my Facebook feed and join me if you like.  I can even give you loggable ground instruction.


Audio Episode Show Notes: River Days – Part 2 – We’ve Got an Airshow!

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These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen to the show audio here:

Better yet, subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your other favorite podcatcher. It’s all free!

It looks as though we’ve got us an airshow!  Funding has been approved and the Coast Guard is telling us that it should be no problem to give us a security zone on the river surface.  Being that those were the two biggest contingencies, it looks like we’ve got us an airshow!

In this episode, David Allen again takes the mic and leads the conversation about recent developments.  David’s role is key because it allows us to put out episodes in near-realtime and make this a really spontaneous process.  (Nearly the opposite of the epic multi-hour series for which Airspeed has become known.)  This is a real treat to be able to explore the other end of the spontaneity spectrum and this is turning out to be a really fun series of episodes.

So check out this second installment in the series and go deep into the process of putting on an airshow as it happens.  And come out and see the show 20-21 June at 1:00 pm EDT on the Detroit riverfront!

Performers scheduled to appear are as follows.  Click the image for more information about each performer.

Billy Werth – Pitts S-2C Aerobatics

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Brett Hunter – MXS Aerobatics (Note: Picture shows Brett’s Pitts S-2C, but Brett will be flying the MXS in the show.)

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Team Tuskegee – TG-7A Formation Demo

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CFI Training Reboot – Indoc in the Schweizer SGS 2-33A

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Here’s a brief report on the CFI training front.  As you might know, it’s pretty much impossible to get an initial CFI-G checkride in self-launch.  So I’ve switched gears and I’m training for the rating in aerotow.

I have an aerotow endorsement and about 30 flights using that launch method.  I’ve trained in the L-23 Super Blanik (TG-10B Merlin), the Schweizer 2-32, and the Schleicher ASK 21, with miscellaneous flights in other gliders. But let’s  be honest: I need to train seriously in a particular ship in a particular environment to dial in my skills before presuming to go after a CFI ride.

CAP training in the ASK 21 was great and I’m grateful to my CAP colleagues for the training that I got to do over the winter in the ASK 21.  But there’s a lot of demand for glider ops – both cadet orientation flights and senior-member training. No way to really get the number and frequency of operations that I think I need to get proficient this spring.  So I’m trying a commercial operation, namely Benz Aviation at Ionia County Airport (KY70).  (Yes, there’s a “K” in the identifier.  It has AWOS-3 weather on the field.  I presume that it will switch over to an all-alphabetical identifier soon.)

2-33 Cockpit

I headed to Ionia Monday and Tuesday for indoc in the mighty Schweizer 2-33A.  The glider training fleet is much more varied than the airplane training fleet, and the 2-33A is as close to a “C-172 of gliders” as one could hope to find.   From its introduction in 1945 until the late 1980s, the 2-33 was the main training glider used in North America.  The 2-33A is simply the 2-33 with a different rudder that provides more authority.

Over two days, I logged seven flights for a total of 1.7 hours aloft. Six normal flights and one 180 abort from 250 AGL. All basic maneuvers except slips, no-spoiler landings, and slack line, which are coming up next week. All unassisted launches (just to remind you of where the stops are on the controls as the tow initiates). All front-seat ops until I get a good command of the aircraft and transition to the back seat. All flights were mid-day with some good bumps to challenge my stationkeeping on tow. Not enough to get slack line, but interesting excursions.

The stick range of motion is lots greater than other ships I’ve flown, although consistent with the 2-32. I’m always surprised by how far forward the stick has to be on takeoff, even with the trim full nose-down. I’m used to keeping my forearm on my leg. Not so in the 2-33A.

I found lift on the first day, despite a 3,500-foot overcast and temps in the 40s. The next day, with clear skies, I had very little lift and had to fly a lower (although in-parameter) pattern to return on the first flight. Probably my fault for taking so long to box, making the tow plane fly further from the airport without turning, and I mis-evaluated the final glide by assuming less sink that we experienced.

The 2-33A is a draggy beast, at least compared to the L-23 and the ASK 21. Coordination is essential. Control inputs take awhile to have effect, so you’re anticipating the other two axes whenever you make an input in one. This really shows in slow flight. I’ stirring the coffee a lot, mainly because I need to develop the muscle and inertial memory that will put me in the groove and help me to be quieter on the controls.

The biggest issue so far is coming back up through the wake at the end of the box. I need to get up more smartly. I got stuck in the wake a couple of times with interesting effects. And to think that guys out west actually get towed through rotors. Wow. I also need to get more precise with slow flight. I stalled each direction and I’m still chasing needles instead of listening for the airflow.

The most pleasant surprise was landings. I’ve been sweating the precision landings for awhile, but the aero-tow experience on grass is showing me that there’s less to worry about. Being on grass and having a front skid is going to make the precision landing and simulated forced landing much more doable than I thought. I touched down and stopped within a 400-foot zone all but one time and mostly ended up within the same 50-foot zone. Even on the 180 abort. Aero-tow folks care about this more than most because the tow pilot and ground crew prefer it if you start and finish at a particular spot.

Runway 36 has deeper grass and those landings were akin to a forced landing in a jungle. The bird went right on the skid upon touchdown and stopped smartly. It’s less of a thing on Runway 27, but I suspect that 36 will get slicker when it dries out later in the spring and when they cut it more frequently. I think I actually prefer the shaggy grass. You only have to worry about the touchdown and the grass takes care of your roll.

Lee Larder, my IP, said that, if I was a commercial candidate, he’d likely turn me loose next week. I think that’s good. I’m keeping him in the cockpit full-time, though, because I’ll need the weight in the front and because I want to critique every maneuver, even if I get good enough that it’s boring.

I’m heading back Thursday and Friday of next week. I’m hoping that a checkride in May – or early June at the latest – is a possibility.