Twin Oaks Airpark just acquired and put into service an Elite PI-135 BATD computer simulator, which one can "fly" for $35 an hour (that's a lot less than $70 for a C150 or $99 for a C172). It's cool, and has a yoke and pedals and a whole panel with working controls and switches, plus the computer screen for the live part and for looking outside. For people doing the instrument rating training some of the hours can be flown on the sim, and even for me and my private pilot training, a few hours can be logged on the simulator.
Since I need to do unusual attitudes and "under the hood" time as part of my private training, and since the weather has not been cooperating recently, my instructor Kelly set me up on the simulator this past Thursday. I did 30 minutes of instrument "flying" that way. This was my first actual instrument training, and we were able to cover the requirements for the private license in the 30 minutes. The idea of providing basic in-the-clouds training to a private pilot is to gave them enough skills and experience to make sure they can make a safe turn and fly back out the way they came.
I think it was good to see how the instrument flying works in the simulator first - which is very sensitive and accurate, by the way. I've heard pilots say if you can successfully fly the simulator you can fly the same maneuvers in a real airplane, and now I see what they mean. It's very exact and requires you to be precise in your control of the plane. Next week we'll be doing the same maneuvers in the air, with all the real-world airplane noise and the sneaky tricks your brain plays on you when you get a real aircraft into unusual attitudes.
We did get to fly for a little while on Thursday, as well. Since it was quite windy (12 knots) and the wind was highly variable in terms of direction (changing constantly from crosswind to a headwind for Runway 20), and since the active landing runway is not the typical one, Kelly wanted me to get some time in the air after a few weeks of almost no flying, and to get some valuable cross-wind landing practice.
Runway 20 at Twin Oaks is not the standard-use runway. It's only used when needed sue to wind direction. It requires you approach on the final leg over some taller trees and then drop in a bit to the threshold of the runway. When you add to that the stronger winds on Thursday and how much they were changing direction, it was a very challenging - but doable - environment. I would certainly not fly in those conditions on my own (it would be too much of a crosswind component for me for sure, and is beyond my established solo crosswind component limits right now anyhow), but when flying with Kelly it's a good learning opportunity.
And learn I did: From the first landing the winds were close to getting the best of me. On the first one Kelly helped me at the very end because I was not using my feet nearly enough to keep the airplane pointing straight down the runway. The fact that the runway slopes downhill landing in that direction adds to the complexity: You tend to "float" more, and combined with any gusting headwind you can imagine the process of landing the plane could be interesting. Not dangerous, just challenging.
Kelly flew the second pattern and landing and I followed along. That was good after being out of the seat for as long as I have been. He even had a little difficulty with the winds landing, although not nearly to the same extent as I did, so I didn't feel too bad. I then flew another pattern and did a go-around because the winds pushed me around and I wasn't feeling confident, then landed it a little better, but still not what I would consider good. We were thinking about calling it quits, but I said I thought I should to do one more and try to land it cleaner. Better to end on a positive note anyhow, I figured. Plus, I was improving little by little.
The last landing was far from perfect but given the conditions not too bad. I'd call it a relative success.
On Friday night we were hoping to fly that night cross-country flight to Seattle's Boeing Field that we've schedule a few times before, but once again we were prevented from doing so by the weather. It's just not burning off the way it needs to these days, so we seem to consistently end up with fog, haze and low cloud decks at night at least somewhere along the route, if not the whole way.
Next week looks pretty great weather-wise, though and I have scheduled quite a bit of flying: The night cross-country for Monday, my long solo cross-country on Wednesday, a daytime lesson for instrument work on Friday and unusual attitudes, and I'll probably another block on the weekend for good measure.