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May 30

Climbing and Descending (2)

Despite forecasts to the contrary, I woke up to find the weather was looking good, so went off to the airport. After a relatively short briefing (since this was essentially what I did last time, just adding use of flaps and power – though the instructor did give me a useful tip for how to maintain balance using an external reference rather than the balance ball), I went out and started checking the aircraft (G-HERC this time).

I did notice one possible issue during the checks – the nosewheel oleo (a shock absorber to soften the impact when the nosewheel touches down and absorb some of the bumps when taxying etc) was not as extended as it should be. When my instructor came out, I pointed this out and he said that it most likely just needed pumping up (they do descend over time), and did a test to check that it still had sufficient extension to be safe, which it did.

Given the good weather it wasn’t surprising that the airport was very busy with lots of radio traffic etc (there were 3 aircraft from the club going out around the same time, and various others operating), which made fitting messages in quite tricky at times – the controller was doing a good job of keeping things going though.

After I’d done the power checks, I turned to my instructor expecting to receive a take off brief, and instead he told me that I would be doing the takeoff, and then proceeded to talk me through it while I was taxying to the holding point (they do like trying to make me do lots of things at once). I was quite nervous about this which is my excuse for not acknowledging the instruction to hold after reporting we were ready for departure!

There was a short delay waiting for a couple of aircraft to land which was useful as it let me properly walk through in my head what I was about to do (I find if I do this before any particular manoeuver rather than just trying to do it then it goes a lot better!).

Once we had clearance, it was taxy on to the runway centreline, then without stopping increase to full power, keep us straight, and at 55 knots or so begin to rotate (bring the control column back). Once airborne, remember not to reduce the right rudder pressure (the propeller slipstream when running at full power tries to make the aircraft yaw to the left), and get established in an 80 knot climb. Other than wobbling a little bit around the centre line during the take-off roll I think it went very well.

As we were climbing I realised I was about to enter a cloud, so asked my instructor what to do but he said to continue – the tops of the clouds were low enough that we would be going above them for the lesson. When we got properly in to cloud he took control (I believe it would be illegal for me to fly properly in cloud even under instruction at this stage) until we emerged. While inside I could see why people say IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) is disorientating – you don’t realise quite how much you rely on the subtle external references until they’re removed!

It was a lovely sight above – a nice white fluffy field with the occasional hole through which the ground could be seen. I was asked to level off at 5000 feet, which I did, and after turning to avoid heading towards a gliding area (the conditions were such there would likely be a number of gliders about) it was time to start the main part of the lesson.

We went through cruise climb/descent (these are relatively straight forward – just a slight increase/decrease to the normal cruise RPM), climbing with flaps, descending with various flap settings, use of power during descent (power is used to control the rate of descent), descending with flaps and power (this is important for landing), and also how to do a go around (i.e. changing from a descent with flaps to a normal climb without losing height or stalling in the process, as either of these things would be very bad when close to the ground!).

One very useful thing the instructor did during the lesson was to cover various instruments when he felt I was looking at them too much.

We then found a gap in the clouds to descend through, at which point I was very glad we’d had the lesson above as it was rather murky below making judging a horizon quite difficult). We headed back to the airport, did a crosswind join and then the instructor took over for the downwind and base legs. He set us up on a relatively long final, then asked me to try and control the descent by adjusting the throttle etc.

I was doing alright until we got to a couple of hundred feet or so, when I should have taken some more power off to increase our rate of descent, but was nervous to as the ground appeared to be getting awfully close, so had to be prompted. I followed the instructor through the flare and touchdown, which was very smooth. Then it was just a case of taxying back to park.

Looking back on the lesson, I think the things I need to try and pay more attention to in future are:

  • Lookout – I was a bit lax at doing this properly before climbing or descending
  • Remembering to warm the engine every 1000 feet or so in a descent (while we only did one long descent towards the end I still should have remembered to do this)
  • FREDA checks

If the weather holds then I have another lesson booked for tomorrow morning on turning – while I’ve been doing this already in a fashion I’ll be learning how to do proper co-ordinated turns and also climbing turns etc.