Saturday, March 31, 2007

Highs and Lows.

Flying presented me with some challenges recently. Seven weather-cancelled bookings in a row were followed by my eventful first night solo flight that in turn was followed by two cancelled night x-counties (during perfect weather) due to Runway lights not working at home airport. I figured that with all the bad luck, I was due for some really nice flights and some really nice flights I had, in both Cessna and Citabria.

Cessna was a night flight. I came to airport early enough to witness unbelievable sunset as I was doing the walk around. The night was perfect – not a cloud in a sky and very minor wind (ATIS called light and variable). All the lights in the plane worked, including the interior red light. It was so nice to have it working as it makes a big difference in allowing the pilot to see all instruments without destroying the night vision.

I decided in advance that if weather was nice I will fly south and treat myself to a downtown Toronto tour. I was a bit anxious as I only ever done downtown tour dual once (on my first night flight ever). Check list and run up completed, soon I was at the Rwy threshold asking Tower for take off clearance which was given, and off into the dark night I went.

Anyone flying over metropolitan Toronto on a clear starry night would soon realize that darkness is a relative term. While the sky above is dark and carpeted with stars, the land below is well illuminated. Bright red and white ribbons of lights representing major highways made navigation real easy. Coming to a giant four ribbon intersection (two major highways), I reported out of the zone of my home airport and few minutes later was checking in with City Centre Tower at Toronto Island. Tower assigned me the altitude of 2,400 ft and told me to watch for other plane in the area at 2,000 ft. Climbing to 2,400 ft I spotted the other plane leaving the zone and after that I had the whole massive downtown with its skyscrapers and CN Tower all to myself.

Remembering to stay out of Toronto Pearson Airport (YYZ) inverted wedding cake airspace, I turned towards the lake and decided that my first circle will be wide so that I can admire downtown from a bit of a distance. The view was as breathtaking as the first time. The downtown building glistened and sparkled silhouetted against dark skies behind them. Visibility was almost unlimited as I could see the outlines of towns in the western end of Lake Ontario and numerous planes over YYZ.

One wide circuit later, I asked permission to come closer to CN Tower to which the reply was that I was free to do whatever I wanted as long as I remained save distance away. So, I got really closer to the Tower (which resulted in temporary loss of radios), and then I flew over the top of my building (Commerce Court West – one of the skyscrapers) before picking up the same highway I followed in and heading in the opposite direction. Flight home was uneventful and I did 3 more circuits for a good measure.

Citabria experience combined both high and low. Weather looking a bit windy but otherwise good for aerobatics, I arrived at the airport to discover a) a x-wind over 10 kts and >60% and b) my instructor departing with another student before I could ask him if he thought it was OK for me to fly. I did not have radio on me (was still in a car), so I could not just jump into the plane and ask. Luckily, one of the local pilots had just landed and talked to my instructor who said it was OK for me to fly as x-wind apparently was not as bad.

Still a bit concerned about x-wind, I did my walk around, dragged the plane to fuel pump for a bit of fuel and went back to car to get my parachute, radio and sun glasses. Once settled in, I taxied to run up bay and went through the run up checklist. As I was trying magnetos, one showed a very significant RPM drop (300 Vs max 175 allowed). I tried to lean the mixture and run it for a bit but that did not seem to help. I am proud to admit that I must have learned something in my short flying career as the thought of flying aerobatics with bad magneto did not even enter my mind as I turned around and taxied back.

Getting out of the plane, I saw my instructor coming in for a landing with the student, so I radioed him and explained the problem. He advised that I needed to run it for a while at really high RPM and to wait for him to do that with me. He was back shortly and miraculously the magneto was fixed. Since he was already in the plane, I asked for a dual circuit to make sure I could handle that x-wind. Good decision as my first circuit and landing were wild to the point of almost running off the Rwy. A bit shaken, I asked for another try, which was much better as which point my instructor said I could handle it and I brought him back, turned around, backtracked and took off.

Climbing to safe height, I ran through the sequences for loop and hammerhead in my head and decided to start with loops. There were a few planes in the area, but much lower than me (I was at 5,000 ft). HASEL checks done, I lined up with the highway (giving me directional reference) and pulled on a stick. Ground-sky-ground sequence gets easier overtime, but no less exciting. Rust shaken off, I concentrated on flying some decent loops with minimal loss of altitude. Hammerheads soon followed. The first one was a bit crooked, the second one I waited too long before pushing the rudder and almost stalled the plane. The rest were acceptable. I then did a few deep breaths and decided to practice some rolls.

As I was setting up for a roll, I repeated to myself to pull the power in case I get too nose low while inverted. However, this time I did not have a nose low problem – the problem that I had was coming out of the roll facing sideways. i.e. the last quarter of the aileron roll was looking more like a barrel roll. I practiced for a bit trying to improve and then headed for the barn, i.e. my little airstrip. Circuit was completely empty, so I joined straight into downwind. Looking at the sock, the x-wind appeared to be the same as when I took off. I concentrated on flying stable approach to the Rwy and then keeping the plane straight with rudder and preventing the drift with ailerons and was rewarded with a beautiful landing. Great way to finish a day.

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