Commercial Maneuvers and Cross-Country

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other entries.

2.5 yesterday KPTK-KMBS-KPTK. I’m seriously considering the commercial certificate, but I have very little PIC cross-country time to places more than 50 nm away. Partly because I got my instrument rating under Part 141, which doesn’t require PIC cross-country time. So I started the day with 22.6 and ended with 25.1.

Even if I’m just going to go out and maneuver, I’m making a real effort to try to touch someplace more than 50 nm away every time. That usually means Saginaw (KMBS). The weather tends to come in longitudinal fronts so, if it’s clear at Pontiac, there’s a decent chance that it’s clear on the way to Saginaw. Or at least a better chance than there is that it’ll be clear somewhere to the west. (I have no problem with east as a cardinal heading, but east for me is Canada and the attendant administrative hassles.)

There was a huge 80 to 100-mile wide cloud deck centered on Saginaw, but it was at least 5,000 feet AGL, which allowed us to fly 4,500 MSL on the way up and 5,500 MSL on the way back. Shot the ILS Rwy 23 and did a pretty decent job of it.

This is also my third flight in the 172RG. I’ll have the 10 hours of retractable time required for the commercial done in the next flight or two, but I think I’ll probably fly this aircraft for the checkride (whenever that happens), so I have no problem getting a lot more time in it.

The other objective was to go see the commercial maneuvers and, in particular, chandelles, lazy eights, steep spirals, and eights on pylons. We haven’t has ceilings that would allow for these maneuvers on any of my prior scheduled flights this year in the RG, so I was really pleased to finally get to do them.

As many of you know, I’m not a natural pilot. I’ve had to really work hard to get the maneuvers right. The instrument rating was easier for me than the private, believe it or not. I just don’t have a good kinesthetic sense. Or at least not the kinesthetic sense of the 23-year-old CFIs with whom I so often fly. Punks! (Extraordinarily talented punks that I greatly admire, by the way.)

So I was really pleased by my performance yesterday. Yeah, I have some polishing to do on a lot of the maneuvers, but I actually flew them reasonably well! I think I love lazy eights. Everything changing in all three axes, but changing at rates and with relationships that you command. And Chandelles are just plain majestic on a cold day when you get really nose-up and climb with brute strength.

Maybe I got the kinesthetic sense after all in a weird way when attitude instrument flying finally clicked for me. I do attitude instrument flying very well and maybe the hood made me pay attention to what was going on empirically (according to the gages) so that I can nail stuff like that now VFR. Even with the distraction of a view out the window!

Anyway, I can see a lot of trips to Saginaw in my future, as well as training for the commercial maneuvers. I have a lot of time to build before I’m qualified to do the checkride, but hey – it’s flying. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch!

The obligatory CFI shot. Meet Dale. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan University’s aviation program and flew well on the commercial demonstrations.

This is the thi9rd different CFI I’ve had in three flights in the RG. Everyone’s a little different in terms of how he or she flies and teaches and that’s fine. But I need to come up with my own checklists and flows for this aircraft.

More than once I had an issue with the gear. Nothing huge. I don’t think that I would have landed gear up. But nearly-as-stupid things like wondering why climb performance sucked so badly after recovering from eights on pylons and heading for home. And then having Dale remind be that we could bring up the gear if we didn’t want to dangle them all the way home.

I do fear the gear-up landing. For myself, I know that mistakes like that are usually task overload. And the best thing for that is to have checklists that I understand and that I can run every time. I think I’ll clear up the gear thing and lots of other issues (prop, carb heat, clearing the engine, and other things that I missed at various times) when I can really sit down with all of the information I’ve received from those with whom I’ve flown the RG and put together my own checklists.

Dale had a particularly good flow. Red, blue, green. Red for the mix, blue for the prop, and then green for the gear-down light (and look out the window for a wheel). Probably easier to remember than GUMPS for that airplane. Anyway, I’ll integrate the best of the pest and go from there.

CAP Form 5 for round-gage instruments scheduled for Sunday at Ann Arbor (KARB). I’m going to go back to DCT Aviation and fly some sim on Saturday to prepare, but I think I have a pretty good chance of passing. We’re flying a C-172R, N992CP (CAPFLIGHT 2028) and CAP SM Scott Gilliland will also be doing his VFR Form 5 that day.

As you might recall, I got Form 5′ed VFR-only in August. They had a C-172P for the check with a panel that I’d never flown. I didn’t want to try to do a full-up instrument checkride on a strange panel, so I elected to go VFR only. Now that I have the chance to fly a C-172R (in which I have something like 80 hours in model and five hours in this particular aircraft), I feel good to go for the instrument ride. It has an Apollo GPS, which which I have only the most rudimentary VFR experience, but we’re not going to be flying any RNAV approaches. Still, I like having the instrument approach overlays for situational awareness and I need to get through the manual before Sunday to see if I can get that part down.

I did the weight and balance and, as long as we launch with 30 gallons of fuel or less, we can probably fit all three in the aircraft. Might be cool. I haven’t ridden in the back seat of a C-172 since I was a kid. Might be nice to see someone else fly for a change. Of course, that means a peanut gallery for my part of the ride, but Scott’s a good guy and will probably remember to reposition his mic before laughing out loud.

Administering the ride will be check airman Capt Alex Craig, who has solid aerobatic and other credentials and flies a Bonanza when he’s not serving with CAP.

As always, I enjoy objective tests of my pilot skills. And a CAP Form 5 check is always a worthy test.

Cross-Country to Saginaw and Commercial Training

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio? Check out the other entries.

Finally got up yesterday after two cancellations. Not bad for Michigan in January, really.

I have three regular flying sources these days. CAP (currency and mission readiness in C-172s and, soon, the mighty C-182T with G1000), Sutton Aviation (tailwheel and aerobatics in American Champion aircraft), and Flight 101.

Flight 101 is an FBO/school with lots of C-172s, a couple of DA-40s, and a C-172RG. It’s my “rent a C-172 and go fly” place since Tradewinds closed its pilot center. I decided recently to start looking at the commercial certificate. I can do a lot of that with CAP, but having access to an RG and qualified instructors form another source allows me to train more often if I decide to do that. And it’s nice because the RG isn’t in very high demand. (After all it’s primarily for advanced training.)

So, after being weathered out a couple of times earlier this month, I went up to refresh myself on the RG and knock off the rust. Most of my complex time is multi-engine and my only single-engine complex time is in this aircraft (about 1.4 before yesterday).

We went VFR to Saginaw (KMBS) to build some cross-country time. It was something like 5F on the ground and accordingly colder at altitude. The heater was non-functional. That’s not normally a big deal, but I’m a polar bear and usually wear only a light jacket in the cockpit because the instructor usually likes to keep it warmer than I like. I keep cold weather gear in the back in case of a forced landing away from civilization (I’d be teased roundly if my CAP brethren found me frozen to death after landing the plane uneventfully).

It was probably the coldest I’ve ever been in an airplane. Not unbearable, but pretty numb toes and we definitely went full-stop at KMBS in order to let me but on my MA-1 flight jacket. Much better!

I got 1.2 hood time on the way back, much of it in slow flight at around 75 KIAS with the gear down on a VOR radial fron FNT. We shot the LOC B/C 27L back into KPTK with a sidestep to 27R.

Both landings were actually pretty good (as, for some reason, is my custom on the first flight back after not flying since October or November). I like to be very tender on retractables. I know that the RG is built to withstand abuse from students learning to fly their first retractable, but the gear still looks a little skinny to me. So I carry a little extra power into the flare and touch it down like mom is in the back seat. A little crosswind on 32 on the way in to KMBS, but it was right down the runway at 9 on the way back in to KPTK.

I’m flying with someone new, namely Niketta Wyrick, a CFII at Flight 101 at KPTK who started at age 14 and is a pretty talented GA driver. This is her at KMBS outside the FBO. I got a good and fair workout on the flight, appropriate to returning to the airport with some acknowledged rust on my skills.

We chandelled up through a sucker hole on the way there to get above the scattered layer at about 4,000 and went most of the way at 7,500. I probably would have run scud (albeit well above the minimum safe altitudes and at least 500 feet below the clouds) if it had been just me because my last instrument approaches were in October and I would not have wanted to be stuck on top and have to come back through single-pilot IFR with that much rust on my scan. But I felt comfortable with Niketta there to assist.

Depending on a couple of other flight opportunities, I’ll probably get up with Niketta to do some work on the commercial maneuvers soon.

In the meantime, I’m planning to go to some CAP currency flying on Monday out of Ann Arbor (KARB). Pretty excited about that. I haven’t flown out of KARB since 2001 and it ought to be fun. Thinking KARB-KBTL-KAZO-KARB at least. Maybe with a stop at KJXN on the way back.