Saturday, August 25, 2007

Surrounded by the Clouds

The night before my scheduled Saturday morning flight, we had a massive front pass through the area with lots of thunder and lightning and very heavy rain, so I was not very optimistic about my flying prospects.

I did not get to fly the previous week and I knew I would be away for the next two weekends, so I needed at least a few circuits to make sure my skills did not deteriorate. Actually, I needed circuit practice regardless as I spent too much time enjoying acro flying and not enough time doing circuits.

Ready to leave for my 5 min drive to the airport, I checked the METARS for airports north and south of my field and all of the airports reported very low ceilings, embedded TCUs and rain, some heavy. It was also started to rain a bit outside my house.

My hopes very low, I decided to drive to the field anyways, thinking that I’d take a look. Arriving at the field, I saw that one of my school’s Cessna’s was in the air and raised them on my handheld radio to ask about the ceilings. They reported that right over the field it was over 3,000 ft but looked low all the way around it. That was all the info I needed – I decided to go up and just do circuits for 0.5 hr.

As it happened, I also had my own personal photographer with me, who took lots of pictures of me prepping the plane and practicing.

The plane is tied up in a grass field during the summer, so I normally check fuel and oil and, in case more fuel is needed, I them start it up, do a quick mag check and then taxi to the fuel pump. We had some magneto troubles lately, so I usually also do a quick mag check while on the grass so that if it drops too much, then I do not even need to move the plane.

This time, the check went fine and soon we were off to get some fuels. I did my walk-around as plane was being re-fuelled. Conscious of the heavy rain the night before, I made sure I checked all the fuel drains for water. Everything was fine and soon I was in the run up area.

As I did my run up, the Cessna in the circuit announced final, so I waited for them to land and take off and then backtracked. Wind was 5-10 kts, almost down the Rwy. The Cessna I was sharing the circuits with flew much larger circuits that I normally do, so I had to play with some power/ pitch settings that would get me on a nice stable approach at the speed that I wanted. My first approach ended up a bit low and I had to drag it in with power, but I figured it out and second approach was much more stable. At that point the Cessna was done for the day and I had the circuit to myself.

Turning from x-wind into downwind and not having to keep my eyes on a Cessna in front of me, I finally had a chance to look around and was surprised to see that I seemed to be flying in the middle in inverted hole. All around my airstrip were low hanging clouds, but they seemed to have parted right over my field leaving my circuit completely open with very decent ceilings. It was amazing.

I worked on my landings trying to make sure I do a nice 3-pointers with no bounces and also tried to stay right in the middle of Rwy. This mostly worked. The Rwy 26 that I was using is upsloping with a couple of bumps in the end that seemed to have gotten bigger over time. I would typically land and roll early enough to be airborne before the bumps, although one time, I was not airborne, but was above the flying speed, so that when I bounced off the bump, I just stayed in the air. I believe we also got that on camera.

I had the circuit for myself for a couple more approaches and then a helicopter announced his downwind as I was in the crosswind. My field is owned by a helicopter company, so we have more helicopters than planes. I quickly scanned the sky, located the heli and told him that I was behind him x-wind turning downwind. He flew a fast circuit and I did not have to extend mine at all.

On my last circuit, I got rained on while in the downwind and figured it was time to do a full stop. I got off the Rwy, taxied through the grass and tied Citabria down for the day as no one else booked it after me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Summer Acro

Summer, especially the dry and hot one, is the prime season for my other passions, such as scuba diving and riding my bike. Some scuba trips take me away from home for the whole weekend, so scheduling flying had become challenging and 2 weeks intervals not uncommon.

Realizing that maintaining my currency and, more importantly, proficiency on 2 different types would be near impossible, I made a decision earlier this summer to lose my currency on a Cessna until fall as it would appear that remembering how to fly in controlled airspace with two working radios, gyros, etc. is much easier that remembering how to land Citabria. So, this had been a summer of Citabria. And what a summer it had been!

I was staying close to home this weekend and the Wx forecast was perfect for Saturday, zero wind, severe clear and unlimited viz. Still a bit too hot, but manageable. I scheduled a long overdue dual acro flight to go over some figures with my instructor and learn some new ones.

It was really nice to fly acro with the defined horizon instead of hazy transition between the earth and the sky that persisted all summer long. I warmed up with a couple of hummerheads, managing the near perfect one on a 2nd try. Then a loop and we were ready to try some slow rolls.

I have been practicing them for a few sessions, but they were falling apart on me. Soon, it was obvious why - i was trying to fly them too fast, too abrupt and some controls inputs were too little, too late. My instructor done one, i followed him on a controls and then few a few semi-decent ones myself with the mental notes on what and how to practice later.

Then we tried a few half loops and immelmans (still need to work on those) and finished by working on reverse Cuban 8's, which proved an almost impossible figure to fly for me. Finally, on try #6 i almost got it. By that time, were were in the air for over an hour and my stomach went into unsettled mode w/o any warning. I seriously thought i was going to lose it this time, but as we got closer to the field and i got preoccupied with spotting the sock, etc., it then settled.

As we flew over the field, we looked at where the sock was supposed to be and could not see it. Took us a few seconds to realize that the reason we could not see it was that it was completely limp, hanging straight down in the still air. That gave us a choice of either Runway and naturally, we wanted the upsloping usual one, so i had to loose a lot of height as we joined the downwind and descended to circuit height at the same time. I was a bit high on final and had to slip a bit, but stabilized over the threshold and had a beautiful landing.

That was yesterday. Today, i was going to practice some of the same elements solo. As i came to the field, i noticed my friends that were flew to Tobermory yesterday and were not supposed to be back until later today were already back, with the plane tied down. Taking to the guys on the field, there was a moving storm line North of us, but the effects were already spilling into our local area with ceilings dropping down and wind picking up. The rain and thunder were not supposed to arrive for a few hours, and the wind was straight down the Rwy so i thought i'd go up for a very short flight.

It was a very short flight indeed. 0.6 hrs. Ceilings were low and getting lower, so i was limited to 3,000 to 4,300 ft space, which really was 3,500 to 4,300 as i do not start anything below 3,500 and do not do any loops or HH at that height. Horizon was not there anymore replaced by obscure transition between cloudy skies and hazy land. I fount a bit of a hole in the clouds that allowed me to climb a bit higher and do some loops. half loops and immelmans and then spent the rest of the flight working on slow rolls at around 4,000 ft. As i worked, the wind afloat was getting stronger and cloud bases darker and finally i decided that it just was not worth it and made a beeline for the field. Wind was strong and gusting, but still relatively down the Rwy, so i had another nice landing.