How I Learned to Fly: Keeping the Ball Centered
Sometimes the lessons with the highest degree of "P-Factor" are the ones best remembered!
The flight instructors handbook says that the more intense is the experience, the better it is remembered. During one of my early lessons, my CFI allowed me to experience an intense moment which sent a jolt of terror through my nervous system which has ingrained in me an important concept that I will never forget.
During my preflight briefing, my CFI stressed the importance of using right rudder in the Cessna 152 during takeoffs, slow flight and anytime when operating during slow flight with high power settings. I was being introduced to power on or departure stalls and the proper use of rudder to compensate for "P factor".
We had departed the Santa Barbara airport on my third flight lesson. It was a beautiful day to be out on an adventure. When departing SBA off of runway 15 Right or Left, practically no sooner did we clear the runway than we were crossing the shoreline and climbing out over the ocean with its view of the channel islands ahead and the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara with its large lagoon on the right.
Today there were Seals swimming underwater near some surfers at College Point and some kayaks paddling in the lagoon. "Watch your heading and pitch attitude" my instructor commands. Looking back inside at my instruments I notice my heading moving towards 30 degrees to the right of my assigned departure heading and my airspeed increasing 10 knots past the speed I was to try and maintain until reaching 1000 feet. Soon we were given our own navigation and appropriate VFR altitude and were on course to the west practice area climbing to what my CFI considered a "safe altitude".
During my first power on stall, my CFI coached me to slowly bring up the nose and to keep the ball centered with the application of right rudder. "Nose coming up. Right rudder coming in. Keep the ball centered. That's it. Feel the buffet." he said. In my mind I was trying to do just as he said. I remembered the buffet from the previous flight when we were doing power off or approach to landing stalls. I remembered that the stall was really a non event. Just lower the nose, add full power, retract the flaps and pitch for a positive rate of climb. The power on stall should be even easer.
The power was already on and the flaps were already retracted. All I had to do was raise the nose through the buffet and into the stall then just lower the nose back to or slightly below the horizon. I was paying attention to doing the maneuver just like I was shown. When the stall occurred the nose dropped with hardly any encouragement from me. We yawed a bit to the right and I was able to keep the wings level with some left aileron. I was reminded not to use aileron during a stall recovery and to Keep the ball centered.
The second power on stall went very much like the first. My CFI being very insistent on the proper use of the rudder in keeping the ship in coordinated flight. During power on stall number 3, my CFI stayed quite for the most part except to remind me to watch my heading better. I took this to mean I was doing a good job which did not require any further coaching. Easing back on the yoke I noticed the ship turning to the left. So I applied some right aileron to hold my heading. Everything was going just like the first two. That was however, until the stall.
Was I surprised? Shocked is more like it. Before I knew what had happened, the left wing dropped. I had applied right aileron to keep the wing up but this time their was no effect. At least not the effect I was expecting. The left wing had rolled past vertical and the nose of the ship was pitching down. The ship was going to roll over on its back! I did not know what to do. A jolt of nervous electricity flashed through my spine. I yelled "oh $#!+" as I released the yoke and grabbed by CFI's shoulder.
Calmly I heard him say "my airplane" and he recovered us to level flight. He then asked me if I was ready to resume control and I said yes. My CFI explained I had experienced a cross controlled stall and a spin entry. Releasing the controls as I did prevented the spin from developing but placed us in a steep spiral decent for which the recovery is to level the wings then level the nose with the horizon.
We did several more power on stalls that lesson. All of them ending without the spin entry that had frightened me. I had gone from a believer that the ball should be kept centered to a knower. I had been touched by reality in a way that I have not forgotten to this day. Proper use of the rudder is a lesson that my own students learn as I calmly say "my airplane" as I set things right for another try.