When you are learning to fly your instructor will go over what to do when you are lost: climb, conserve, confess and comply. You should initiate a climb because getting a better view is often helpful in your navigation. Once up a ways, pull back the power and conserve fuel; if you don’t know where you are you don’t know where you are going, so you shouldn’t be in a hurry to get there. Then talk to air traffic control and admit that you are lost. That’s the hard one for a lot of people. They want to believe that they are in command and it’s hard to feel in command if you have admit you have lost track of where you actually are. (Comply just means that if they tell you to do something, you should do it. I think they just wanted a fifth C.)
My first instructor said that during his first solo night flight (part of his long cross country flight, I think), he became disoriented. He was over Florida. He finally confessed to air traffic control that he didn’t know where he was and this was before the mesh of radar coverage we have now and, obviously, long before GPS. So the center controllers got him to find an airport, which had a flashing white and green beacon to identify it. But he didn’t know what airport he was over. So the controllers called a bunch of nearby airports and had each one flash their lights until my instructor said, “Hey! That’s the one!” and then they steered him home.
Confession is the key.
Confession: I am insecure. This is the hardest one for me: for pretty much the entire month of March I have had to leave the cabin unlocked. The plane is parked at the base of the tower behind chainlink fence, barbed wire, a constant police patrol from the City of Santa Monica, and under security camera surveillance. Still, there were four headsets in there and a lot of stuff that I would be sad if I came back to the plane and was missing. The broker for the plane has a checklist for the things the plane has to have as he is picking it up from the seller. For whatever reason, the checklist for our new plane wasn’t carefully audited and when they went to fly it across the country to me the ferry pilot reported that the key to the cabin was missing. For the past month they have been chasing down the original owner who found the keys in his shed. Since my first long trip is meant to be this weekend and I will be leaving the plane on the ramp at a few strange airports this is a big relief.
Confession: I stink. Mostly of jet fuel. John Ewing told me to be really careful with the fuel tester. That’s the jar that I use on the preflight inspection to check the fuel for water. He said that getting a little bit of fuel in the nose compartment would “be the gift that keeps on giving.” I listened to his recommendations (latex gloves for handling the dirty stuff, double ziplock bag for the Gatts jar, Tupperware container for the ziplock bag…) and tried to follow them. It’s hard to zip the ziplock when you have on the gloves. When you have done it the first dozen times you start wondering how important it is. No matter how careful you are, you will get one drop of fuel on your jeans and that will fill the cabin with the stink of diesel for the entire flight up from San Diego.
So I started thinking that the smell of fuel in the cabin was because I had stepped in a puddle by mistake, since they were still mis-fueling the plane and filling it too much. And figuring that there was a leak between the tanks and the cross-feed levers, filling the space under the seats with twenty gallons of JetA. Pretty sure that was what was happening. I could picture it. I even took the plane down to my mechanic and he opened the engine cowlings for me and we traced the fuel lines. Shocked, I saw that there just wasn’t any spills, leaks, or drips anywhere. (And I was amazed at how clean the engine compartments were. The motors are so shiny.)
I flew home and smelled fuel the whole way. I did my post-flight inspection, tying up the plane and putting things away. I had a new pair of chocks to put in the nose compartment so opened that. And I noticed the Tupperware container was a funny shape. It had a slight separation where I didn’t get the cover on right and it was compressed, like the air had been sucked out of it. So the plane travels along at 170mph, and the cabin pulls air from the nose compartment… I can imagine that there’s a partial vacuum up there. Enough that since I didn’t carefully seal both ziplock bags and the Tupperware, it sucked the fuel out as an aerosol and filled the cabin.
Ewing said to take the carpet out of the nose (“It’s all just velcro’d in…”) and Scotchguard it. That was a product I hadn’t used since I was a teenager and trying to protect camping gear that my family used on overnights in the woods. Great! I got some at the hardware store. I also went a little nutty and got an air freshener that would give that nose a nice orange scent. I pulled all the carpet pieces out, placed them on the ground near my tie down and Scotchguarded them until the can was empty (“Several applications is better than one heavy one,” so I did other things and kept coming back to do more). But even before all that I flew to lunch with Brad and we had no fuel smell, just because I had sealed the Gatt jar better.
On the way up to lunch I showed Brad how terrible it was to have an engine failure in a Twinstar. I pulled back the single lever for the right engine. (The landing gear horn sounded, since the plane figured I might be landing and I didn’t have the gear down.) I then kicked in a bunch of left rudder and we continued to fly along. I identified the engine that had failed us and turned off its Engine Master switch. The propeller blades promptly feathered, turned themselves into the wind, and stopped entirely, eliminating the drag they had been producing. Brad took a photo of us over Simi Valley at four thousand feet, continuing on to lunch uninterrupted by an engine failure.
Since I am still practicing my landings with both engines and had no desire to make it harder by landing with just one, I dipped the nose a little to get 115kts of airspeed and turned the Engine Master back on. The propeller started to spin in the airstream and with a slight rumble the engine started back up.
Confession: I am treating the new plane like a large piece of furniture. Dick Filbey said that the easiest way to clean the plane off post-flight was to spray it with some Pledge furniture polish (no silicon, which is key for the finish that is on the carbon fiber and fiberglass plane). So I spray some on and wipe it off the leading edges of the wings, scrubbing a little where there are any bugs.
I also picked up some Goo Gone because when I peeled off the stickers I wasn’t able to get it all off. I haven’t scrubbed all of it away, but I expect to before the end of the summer when it goes to get new stickers.
Confession: I am still not happy with my landings. I’ve had my landings judged by a trio of CFIs, and they all say, “Totally safe, you are doing great.” But this is my grading sheet from a couple days ago when I went down to Long Beach to practice landings. C+, B-, B- and, not shown, probably a solid B when I got home. Adam says I am too hard on myself, since I had thousands of landings (or probably really close) in the Diamondstar and it’s no wonder I was able to set it down in pretty much any conditions I had encountered. With the Twinstar I had a rule that if the winds (not the crosswind component, just the wind in general) is more than 16 knots I will tie the plane down and go home (that cut short my practice at Long Beach that afternoon).
Mostly I need to start nailing the speed on final and getting the descent speed steady. Filbey said that if I do that, I’ll hit the same landing spot every time. Today I did make it off runway two one at Santa Monica at the start of Atlantic and I was off two six at Camarillo on taxiway bravo. Those are both improvements.
Off to sin some more.