Night Moves

… a little too tall, coulda used a few pounds… tight pants, points, hardly renowned… (Bob Seger, Night Moves, 1976)

No, not THAT kind… THIS kind:

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Yesterday was my first weekday (after-work) lesson, and the above picture was taken on the last circuit just as the sun was going down.  The picture doesn’t do justice to the sheer serenity of the feeling when the sun is on its way down, and the air is getting cooler and just becomes a sheet of calm.

If not for the feeling of being as busy as a 3-legged dog trying to bury a turd on a frozen pond, dare I say it would be relaxing and meditative.

I got a lot of great feedback and food for thought based on my last post, and I think I finally got a handle on the “confidence” piece, or at least I am getting there.  There’s a lot to be said for anticipating rather than reacting!

We did more crosswind circuits, and it now looks like things are tightened up sufficiently that the main thing to work on is judgement of aim point, and speed and height in the flare, and settling it down rather than flopping it onto the deck like a fighter jet.  A lot more practice is required here, especially with the crosswinds.

In that vein, when Brett asked if I wanted to work in some circuit emergencies (not a problem with the squiggly bit between the two ends of a battery, but simulated engine failures), I was enthusiastic to move on to something new.  I reasoned that while the landings certainly need work, I need to land regardless of what else I am working on, so they are only going to get better over time anyway.

I still remembered most of the Forced Landings lesson, so when he cut out the engine and had me point back to the field, I instinctively went right to my best glide speed – 65 kts, maybe a touch faster into the wind – used appropriate amount of flaps, and actually made it back to the runway on 3 out of 4 attempts.  Although I remembered the initial checks and mayday calls, I did forget the landing checklist where you are supposed to shut off the fuel, master switch, etc…  will have to look it up again! We did go over it on the Forced Landings lesson, but I had completely forgotten!  But, for a first go, I think I’m pretty happy, and Brett marked it down as solo standard. Even on the 1 out of 4 that I didn’t make it to the strip, I think I probably still would have made it to the grass.

In all, I think we went around 7 or so times, and when the sun got a little lower than the picture above, we had to bring it in.  Made one last downwind call for a full stop and requested the North runway, to cut down on taxi time.  This time I promised Brett a perfect landing, just to wrap it up for the year.

Sadly, this wasn’t the case… as usual, great down to about 2 metres then misjudged the flare.  I did squeeze in some power at the last to try not to make it too hard, but it was still not a proud moment.  Ahhh well, 2013 is another year!

Workin’ and practicin’ Night Moves….

Crosswinds and Crossroads

Had another action-packed lesson this weekend in the Jabiru J170 at Bankstown Airport, during what is statistically the highest-afternoon-winds month in the year:  (http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/averages/tables/cw_066137.shtml)

As a follow-on to the last lesson, we were to work on final approach and landing, as Brett reckoned I had the other elements of the circuit down pretty well.  And, while I thought last session was windy – I hadn’t seen windy, yet!

It was a hot December day and ATIS report said winds at 080 degrees at 18 knots, max crosswind 12 knots.  To my memory, a 30 degree crosswind of 18 kts would give a crosswind component of 9 knots.  So either it was gusting, or the wind was changing direction occasionally.  OK, so a bit of a left crosswind (and a hell of a tail-wind – wheeeee!).  But then I realised that 14 knots is the maximum for this aircraft – 2 more and we’d have had to cancel…

*GULP*

However, for this to work, I have to be able to trust my CFI completely, so if he is comfortable then so am I.  The first indication that this will be one to remember was the sheer speed at which we taxied:  simply idling along, I had to ride the brakes at times just to keep it from getting away!  But, we got to the runup area, completed the checks, and sidled up to the holding point (Yankee at runway 11 Right, for the nerds…).

Takeoff was normal, I have even learned to keep centreline quite well by anticipating the weathercock into the wind and balancing with opposite rudder.  Although the crosswind leg of the circuit (right-hand this time) happened very quickly due to the tailwind, I was able for the most part to keep a good heading and attitude, and remembered the fuel pump and light switches most of the time <grin> .  I only turned off avionics once I think 😛  Good thing the master and magnetos are on the other side of the panel.  But I digress…

I definitely feel an improvement on the downwind leg, seems like the heading and spacing are coming pretty naturally, and the radio call is second nature.  Still can fluster up my pre-landing checks if I get distracted, but get there in the end.  Have to watch height – a few times, due to the thermals, I gained a couple hundred feet without realising it.

Base turn and leg are pretty solid now, with a good glide path, speed, and spacing.

But, WT*$@#&^ is up with my finals??  Back to that in a bit…

Last lesson, on an equally hot and thermally day (but not as windy), I made a rather steep turn low and slow onto finals.  I *think* that the wind gusted enough at that moment to put me almost sideways, and I just had this dreaded image in my head of a low speed stall and graveyard spiral into the ground from low-altitude.  It really did my head in.

So I seem to be really extra cautious about that particular descending turn (though I didn’t really used to be I don’t think) and it is causing me to turn way too shallow and early, consuming much of my time on finals just getting lined up, when I should just be settling into the glide to land.

Another thing that happened this time was at the end of the takeoff, before turning crosswind, a “really gnarly updraft” (Brett’s words) occurred at about 200 feet, which rolled me right over in the blink of an eye and again… that really Got My Attention.  I managed to right it, but it took several more circuits to get my legs back under me.

Brett explained that over areas where there are a lot of parked cars or tin warehouse roofs, there is going to be a great deal of heat generated – which rises up and causes that momentary weirdness.

So – one more data point:  anticipate these things so I won’t get caught off guard.  Next time I’ll know.

In all we probably did 7 or 8 circuits, and called a full stop for a break.  Plan was to pull into a runup area and rest for a bit, let the brain catch up, and go back out for a bit more.  BUT!  No sooner do I get it onto the taxiway and adjacent to the runup area, that we start lurching off the tarmac to the right.  Nothing either of us could do!  After stopping the engine and investigating, looks like we blew the nosewheel tyre.   Well, good thing we didn’t go up again then, as it could have happened on the next landing, and certainly have been much worse.

Some calls to operations and the ground crew picked us up, and its all been sorted, but that’s really a separate story.

Onward to Debrief, which is Our Little Chat after the lesson where we talk about what went right, what went wrong, focus areas, what’s next, etc.  Pretty much went as expected, need to get those turns onto final under control, watch my trim, work on landing technique, etc.

But the main takeaway was this – the main concern he has right now with sending me solo is basically that I still lack confidence.  That was quite a revelation, because I feel like I generally don’t lack confidence in most situations.  But you know what?  He is right!

This is it – the connective tissue that ties it all together!  Hell, I KNOW how to do this stuff!  I’ve passed the tests, I can take off, I can fly straight and level, turn, descend, (mostly) land, make the calls… Mechanically, I know how this thing ticks… but what ties all those things together?  The CONFIDENCE to go from one action to the next because you KNOW its what needs to be done, without questioning yourself.

I have always suffered from this critical internal chatter that is very good at presenting all the ways something can go wrong, but can’t seem to ever cut in mentally and just say “yes, but I know how to deal with those things”.  So I consume a LOT of brain cycles churning though that stuff that could be spent more productively.

Of course PRACTICE is the best way to just simply make it routine enough that you can shut the running critique off.  And I am getting there.  But even after 30+ years of riding motorcycles, it would still pop up from time and its enough to run you into a ditch just on sheer force of will.

So that’s where I am at… accumulating practice, but currently also researching ways to silence the inner critic, or at least answer it in a way it can be satisfied and fade away.  Email me with ideas!

And for the smart-asses – no, I am NOT “hearing voices”!  At least, that’s what they tell me…