("Old dog" referring to my age, not my time as a pilot here)
It's been a busy week for me as far as flying goes - for the first time in almost a year I got two flights in. Monday was the first. Already different from the norm in that I usually fly on Tuesdays, this would be a flight that would stretch me, and also teach me some valuable skills with regards to landing an airplane.
Monday, 8/3 I'll skip the uneventful account of preflight & run-up and go straight to saying that my first landing was a little flat. On climbout, Randy informed me that, "We're going to break you of that. I'm going to teach you something new tonight - we're going to work on soft field takeoffs and landings."
"Cool," I thought. Something new. I should point out, with the way my flying hours have shaken out this year (that's my positive way of saying "thanks to all the horrendous delays"), it's been several months since I've done any maneuvers that have required full elevator deflection. I'm not muscular in any sense, and I don't work out, well, except when I'm in the cockpit.
We taxied straight back to good ol' Two-Seven, and as we approach the run-up area, he pulls the yoke back full and says, "The maneuver begins now." We don't stop at the hold short, rather just make our takeoff radio call and taxi straight out. I have hands on the controls but Randy has the plane, and I advance the power to full.
Now, let me tell you, if you've never experienced a soft field takeoff before, and I hadn't, it really throws you. The idea is that you're taking off from a soft runway, let's say by deduction it's a grass strip, and it's recently rained. You want to transfer the weight of the airplane off the landing gear as quickly as possible, beginning with the nose gear, so it doesn't sink into the ground and dig in, resulting in what John King would describe as "a bad day." Adding full back yoke, the nose comes up almost immediately, but you have to keep it just a little off the runway, you don't want to let it to continue rising. To accomplish this, you must gradually relax back pressure on the yoke. The entire process basically results in the aircraft doing a wheelie down the runway, which is strange yet incredibly fun. Steering with the rudder pedals and holding the nose at a certain height requires intense concentration and coordination between your brain, hands, and feet. I love it.
At around 40 kts, the main gear then leaves the runway, thanks to ground effect, which I'll let you research for yourself on Google/etc., but in short it's caused by the air coming around the end of the wingtips. This lifts the plane in the air below stall speed. If you come out of ground effect before you have enough airspeed, the wings will stall, and the plane will dive nose-first into the runway. So, you have to continue to hold the yoke forward a bit to keep the plane in level flight, about 10-15 feet above the runway, until airspeed is sufficient to leave ground effect. This part threw me, because it feels unnatural at first.
Once we were in the air and on downwind, Randy began briefing me on the soft field landing technique, which is really the same as a regular landing, but upon touchdown, you again hold the nose gear a few inches off the runway, until all the airspeed bleeds off. This forces you to come in at a more precise angle in your approach, and more importantly ensures you time your round out and flare such that you are able to hold the nose off on landing.
We did 7 soft field takeoffs and landings. I had one really good one, the rest were not so great, but I understood the concept and was picking it up. We taxied back after the seventh landing and I handed 34Q over to the next student in line, who was waiting at the ramp to work on night flights with Randy. A quick debrief, and then planning the next flight. Weather for Wednesday was supposed to be 50/50 rain chances, thunderstorms possible, but we scheduled for 6:30 PM with the hopes of getting a few landings in anyway.
Wednesday, 8/5 I was still at the office around 4:50, discussing an issue with our lead developer, when my cell phone rang. It was Randy, and I assumed he was calling to cancel due to the weather looking questionable. However, he advised we might have a window to get some landings in if I could get to the airport soon. So, I finished up my conversation, grabbed my headset from beside my desk, and headed for the door. I always keep my gear - My flight bag, my headset, and "The Equalizer," in my car on flight day rather than having to head home to get them after work, for just this reason. I then bring my headset into my office to keep it out of the heat/cold.
I arrived at KHNB around 5:20. On the way in I was looking at the sky & calling the AWOS on my phone. Conditions were VFR currently, but I wasn't so sure it would stay that way long enough. We discussed it, looked at the radar, and decided we had time for at least 5 or 6 landings, which actually turned into 10.
Skipping the run-up/etc again, tonight's agenda was again soft field landings. Wind was favoring Niner I did much better with almost all of them, though I had a couple unstable approaches that resulted in touch-and-gos and go-arounds.
After about 5 landings, as we were abeam touchdown for the sixth, he pulls the power and says, "Alright, you just lost your engine. Get us back to the airport, soft field landing. This is what you'd do if you were putting it down in a field during an emergency."
I flew my airspeeds just as I would in a normal pattern, but turning the plane back towards the end of Niner instead of flying a standard base leg. Once I knew we had the runway, I began adding flaps. I added them a little late, which resulted in rounding out just little far down the runway, but I then continued with a normal landing as I held it off, flared, then touched down and held the nose off the runway. "Excellent job. Let's keep going, full power."
After the 8th landing, as we taxied back to Niner, he advised this would be the last one. He wanted to show me one more new thing - short field takeoffs and landings.
We taxied to the end of the runway, ensuring we used every available inch. I held the brakes, advanced the power to full, checked engine instruments, and released the brakes. At 60 knots I rotated, and then held the airspeed at Vx of 64 knots until we were at least 50 feet off the ground, then rotated to Vy of 78 kts for a normal climb during the remainder of the climbout
On downwind we briefed the short field landing. We'd be coming in a little high, my aiming point would be the 500' markers, and my touchdown point would be the 1,000' markers, landing no further than 200' past the beginning of the marker. I set up the approach, brought it in, rounded out, and touched down just beyond the end of the 1,000' mark. "Great job, excellent! That was so good, let's do another. Full power." On climbout he changed his mind. "You know what? This time, you land the plane however you want. If you want to do a normal landing, go ahead." I didn't hesitate. "I'll do a soft field." "Ok, great!"
The approach was good, right on glide slope, rounded it out, corrected for a slight balloon, held it off & flared it. Touchdown was smooth, on center, and I just held the nose up, slowly applying more back pressure on the yoke until it was all the way back & the stall horn was singing. "Yes, you got it! That's what I want to see."
We taxied back & put 34Q away for the evening, went into the office & debriefed. I advised I'd made the decision to do my medical flight test separately, ahead of the checkride, just to get it done so it wouldn't be a factor in the rest of my training, or my checkride itself. If they want to do the MFT at Bowman Field in Louisville or at Clark County airport, we'll just schedule that to be a cross country flight and nail two birds with one stone & get the most for my money on the flight.
The CFI from the FSDO that I was planning to fly with on the checkride/flight test is out of the office for a couple weeks, so I have a call in & waiting on a call back from his supervisor to begin scheduling the test (have to coordinate with my CFI & ensure the plane is available). No plans to fly next week pending the callback from the FSDO. I'll post details here as I get them.
Until then, Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.