Ah, Mondays. The start of another week. I had some time to fly today (I won't have as much time the rest of this week due to work-related things), so I took advantage of it and got to the airport at 10 a.m. Today was a busy lesson with lots of things to cover in less than two hours. When I arrived at Twin Oaks Airpark this morning it was overcast and the ceiling was just high enough to fly. I preflighted the airplane and joined Kelly for a quick ground instruction session, in which we discussed all the things I'd be seeing and doing during the flight, which ended up being an hour and a half long.
I'm getting much more comfortable taxiing the airplane now. In fact, I need to make sure I don't get moving too fast now that I have the hang of steering with just my feet. Proper taxiing speed is about the same as a fast walk. I'm also getting more comfortable with the checklists and all the procedures in general.
One of the several things my instructor, Kelly Wiprud, added into my list of tasks today was handling the whole talk-on-the-radio thing. He helped by telling me what I needed to communicate throughout the flight, but I was the guy on the radio the whole time, with just one or two exceptions. Even with years of police work in my past, thinking about what to say on the radio while flying is a bit complicated - But I think my police days might help a bit, since radio operation while driving a police car is also a bit of a divided attention thing.
Anyhow, it was kind of fun to talk on the radio.
We departed to the south and turned, as we always do for noise-abatement reasons, to the east. Soon we turned southeast again in search of higher clouds and clearer skies. We found that over by the Aurora airport, which is located east of I-5 and south of the Willamette river and Wilsonville, the conditions were pretty good - much better than McMinneville and other areas further south and west.
We started with slips - a maneuver I was not familiar with except in theory. A slip is a "cross-controlled" maneuver, meaning you apply for example right rudder and left aileron, which causes the plane to fly somewhat sideways through the air. That's a condition that creates a lot of drag and as a result the plane drops altitude very quickly. It's useful in situations where - you guessed it - you need to drop quickly to get somewhere - especially if you need to do a short approach to a runway, for example. It's a bit awkward feeling, yet it's fun to do and it certainly works.
I picked a radio tower out on a farm field in the rural area we were flying over and slipped toward it with the plane slipping both left and right. It takes some very heavy force on the pedals and controls to make the plane really slip.
Next we headed back up to altitude and did some work on three different "ground reference" maneuvers: Turns around a point, S-turns and a rectangular pattern. The idea is that you should be able to fly perfect circles around a single reference point on the ground (like a tree or barn or something) and adjust for winds to keep your circle clean and even-distanced from the point.
In an S-turn drill you pick a straight line like a road and do half-circles down the length of the road, so that each time you cross the road you start your next turn. From above it looks like you're drawing an S (or a few of them) with the road as the center. Again, you have to account for winds and adjust your turns each direction to ensure your half-circles are equal.
The rectangular/box ground reference maneuver is what it sounds like: Fly around the box, keeping the proper reference to the sides of the box distance-wise, and fly the straight lines and turns with wind adjustments.
All of these maneuvers are conducted at 800-1000 feet above the ground and to successfully complete the maneuvers you have to maintain proper speed, hold your altitude and consistent distances all at the same time. It was pretty fun. As a general rule, I'm very comfortable in the air. Flying the airplane in different configurations and in different maneuvers feels good and I generally feel confident.
Next came landings. More landings. Good, I really need them, heh. Landings are my weak point. Today my first landing was probably my best. First Kelly showed me three things all in one approach: an engine-out landing procedure, which included a slip approach and a go-around. He then gave me control of the airplane and I flew the pattern to do a touch and go. I landed a little flat but not too bad, and got back in the air. As I flew more landings I discovered I was getting a better awareness and feel for the airplane, little by little. I could look outside and tell better if I was too high, too low or too fast, etc. Scanning outside and glancing inside the plan is easier now, in part because I don't have to think as much about where instruments are, and in part because I am just relaxing a little bit more.
On the third landing pattern, I started to get configured for a landing just prior to turning and Kelly pushed the throttle to idle and told me my engine had just died. I was a little off on the configuration and flew too fast, and as a result didn't quite make it to the runway, but it was a good experience. Lots of "good experiences" these days, heh. I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities for unexpected situations to be thrown at me in the future.
I was far from perfect today, but I felt a stronger awareness of what was happening each step of the way. I'm starting to "feel the airplane" now. As Kelly told me, an instructor can't teach a student to land. They can tell you how, but when it comes right down to it, they're just helping you learn it for yourself. Makes sense.
So, I bounced a landing or two, flared too late on another, landed a bit too sideways on yet another, and did a pretty good job on one, too. My take-offs were substantially better (well, most of them anyhow). I'm going to have to get better at staying on the center line on these big runways, though - The runway at Twin Oaks is probably one-fourth the width of the one at Aurora. You have to land straight on the small runways, or else you find yourself in the grass (which is Very Bad).
On the way back to Twin Oaks, we flew over a farmer's crop-art formation. Either that or aliens from outer space are carving crop circles in order to convince us to do our duty as citizens. I can't imagine many people get a chance to see this from the air, though - so I made a video and am sharing it here with you.
I captured it with my new Kodak Zi6 pocket HD video camera, which I picked up at a local Radio Shack store. The embedded version below isn't too bad, but you can also see the higher-quality version of the video here.
I'll be doing a review of the Zi6 camera on my main weblog sometime soon. My plan is to mount it in the plan the next time we fly (we tried briefly today but didn't want to waste time when we could be flying). I figure a video record of maneuvers filmed out the front of the plane would be a good learning tool. Plus it might make for an occasional interesting video to post here.