Monday, December 18, 2006

Under the Hood at Night.

Recently, I had my fist 1.0 hrs of under the hood time towards the night rating. Naturally, I also picked up the best ever VFR night to do this. Not a cloud in the sky; stars all over the place and unlimited visibility. This would have been a GREAT night for a night x-country. Alas, my instructor had the whole light show to himself as I had to spend most of my flight time admiring the dimly lit instruments.

This was a new plane for me – my school (Toronto Airways), lost couple of planes in a weird micro burst last summer, including my second favorite, HMU and they since acquired another one. All Cessna 172Ms are more alike then they are different with the basic instruments in the same places (most of the times), but the little dials, engine gauges, etc. can be anywhere on a panel in different planes, so the run up took a bit more time than usual.

As I was doing the run up we were listening to a Ground frequency. There was one controller working both Tower and Ground frequencies, so he was transmitting on both, which explains why we were able to hear his side of what I called “lost pilot dialogue”. Pilot, who was obviously non-local to YKZ had difficulties finding it in the midst of sea of lights. That was not surprising as I was told by several pilots more experienced than me that YKZ is VERY difficult to find at night.

Controller was trying everything he could – dimming and brightening Rwy lights, turning them on and off. Nothing helped, the pilot still could not locate the airport – and at that point he would have been about 2-3 miles out. Finally, the controller just gave pilot vectors for the straight-in approach.

In the break of their dialogue, I jumped in a got my permission to taxi. We taxied in to a short hold position just as the lost pilot finally discovered the Rwy in front of him. We watched him land (high and long) and I asked the Tower for permission to take off and was told to get in a position and wait. We rolled into the position and waited. And waited and then waited some more…

After sitting in the position for what seemed to be like 5 mins, I thought the Tower forgot about us and just about to ask, when I heard the controller side of another dialogue with the same lost pilot. This time he was lost on the ground, having taken the exit to the South of Rwy 33, which meant that he would have to cross it again to get back to hangars. The controller was not taking any chances and wanted that pilot off the taxiway and runway before he was letting us take off. The pilot finally figured it out and soon we were free to go.

We were climbing though 1500 ft when I became aware of two things. First, that plane had a tendency to roll left necessitating a bit of aileron correction at all times and second, the air was extremely bumpy. Neither was good for under the hood work. As we flew out from under YYZ inverted wedding cake zone and climbed above 3,500 it became smoother and at 4,000 ft the air seemed still. This was misleading however, as the stillness was due to a very fast moving air mass. Going against the wind at 110 kts Indicated, our ground speed ranged from 40 to 60 kts.

While under the hood, I did standard tasks such as directions, climbing, turning to a certain heading, tracking the VOR etc. Plane wanted to go into standard rate turn to the left at all times and it took effort to keep it on a given heading. Despite the left turning tendency, I managed most of the tasks OK, until I was told to do a standard rate turn. It was then that I experienced leans for the first time, when my body told me we were flying straight and level and yet instruments showed still turning. Very weird sensation – I knew exactly what it was from reading about it in the books, however, it was “interesting” to experience it for the first time. I managed OK, came out of the turn and leveled off.

Right after that experience, doing a turn in the opposite direction I made it a bit steeper and within a few seconds felt some weird Gs. I wasted a few seconds trying to figure out what my brain was telling me and then looked at the instruments that showed turn steeper than 45 degrees and speed climbing. I was almost in a spiral but managed to recover having lost few 100 ft and having a new appreciation how easy it is for an inexperienced pilot to get into a spiral dive in inadvertent flight into IMC.

On a way back to the airport, we did some partial panel, which went well until I descended below 3,000 ft. It became so bumpy that I took the hood off and flew us back visually. Found the airport with no problems (it is much easier to find when you know exactly where it is ;-)).

Was a bit high, but remembered the Cessna’s have flaps just in time to get myself established nicely on the final and then all of a sudden had my best landing EVER. Did not feel the wheels touch, so was thinking I was still flying, pulled the yoke some more and felt the front wheel come off, so realized I was actually on the ground already.

I am beginning to like this night flying thing…

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