Learning to Fly Better

If one took no chances, one would not fly at all. Safety lies in the judgment of the chances one takes. That judgment, in turn, must rest upon one’s outlook on life. Any coward can sit in his home and criticize a pilot for flying into a mountain in fog. But I would rather, by far, die on a mountainside than in bed.

Charles Lindbergh

You know, I am no critic of dying in bed. I’m not even a critic of staying home in bed. I like sleeping in a bit on Saturday morning, waking up, reading, writing some email and considering the big picture. I am working really hard to learn to fly in fog without flying into a mountain, as unadventurous as that might sound to Mr. Lindbergh.

I am spending a couple hours a week trying to improve my judgement of chances and stretching toward the goal of being a really good, safe pilot. I am good now, and I actually know that statistically I am very, very safe, but that is in part because I am cautious. I would like that to be more because I am skilled, because caution only steers you around so many potholes in life.This morning I spent over an hour and a half under the hood flying around in a beautiful blue sky. The crystal clear kind of day we get after a rain here in Southern California. When I was working on my private pilot certificate I used to get very paranoid under the hood and thought that I was going to fly into a mountain. I have learned to trust the check pilot (this morning that was my Certified Flying Instrument Instructor).

We flew up to Ventura. I never saw any of it. I saw the inside of the airplane and the instruments. It was nice to see the instruments today. My steep right turns (forty-five degrees of bank, flying a circle back to the same heading without losing altitude) have gotten very stable. The left turns still need some work. We did some slow flight with the airplane just plowing through the air at fifty knots. We purposefully stalled the airplane (at forty-five knots), pulling the nose up with no power and trying to get it to stop flying. It wouldn’t really stall, it just sort of wiggled a little and floated down at three hundred feet per minute. We called that a stall and I practiced power-on, nose down, flaps up to recover.

I tracked some radials to and from VOR (radio beacons we use for navigation) and do some constant speed climbs and descents (those are important for arrivals, departures and approaches). My CFI said that my flying when she had me do a constant-speed, constant-rate climb while tracking a VOR was dead on. Apparently it makes a big difference that I fly enough and work on my skills (like maintaining an altitude).

We did the VOR approach back into Santa Monica and by then I was definitely disoriented. The zoom knob on the map screen seems to have gone out, so I couldn’t see the map position as easily. I was just trusting my CFII to get me along the foothills out to Bevey (the approach fix) and then I started my approach.

The best thing we did was (at Adam’s suggestion) finding a better landing speed. I’ve been crossing the fence at 85 knots and skipping down the runway like a stone across a pond. When you fly, speed feels like safety. I have to remember that there’s nothing safe about running off the other end of the runway and that even though my first instructor was clearly terrified a student would kill him and “keep the speed up, do you want to stall?” the DiamondStar doesn’t stall at 80 knots, 70 knots, or even all the way down to 50 knots but somewhere slower than that. So we did one left-closed-traffic at the beginning of the lesson and I crossed the fence at 75 knots. I touched down at 54 knots and it was glass smooth.

Read the manual, folks. Read the manual and trust it a little more than I do.

Inching along toward the check ride. My CFII said that I am progressing faster than most students, so that’s good news.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
This entry was posted in Just Words, Training and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.