The Cessna, The Sky ... and the Cartoonist: Chapters Four and Five

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John Ewing continues flight training with chapters on climbs, descents, and turns. But things are never easy when going 'back to school' in the retired years of life, and our writer/cartoonist is flummoxed by more technical vocabulary and high-g-force turns. But he's looking forward to the time he can move into the right seat of the plane where the 'real' pilots sit.

This is the third in a series of excerpts that began with Chapter One.

Chapter Four: Notes on Lesson Three -- Climbing and Gliding/Power Descent

Cessna and Cartoonist

Today I had a new instructor. His name was Mike. I found Mike to be a very pleasant young fellow with an air about him that lent immediate confidence. Well, as much confidence as one can have towards someone who looks like my 14 year-old grandson. How do such young people become so expert in so few years, I wondered?

During the lecture I discovered that he was more cerebral than he appeared. He has a quiet voice and I would have liked him to talk a bit louder for my recorder, a minor complaint. In fact it probably would not have helped, because once again the bulk of the lecture was in a foreign tongue. I copied this; see what you can make of it: "Vy=67kts Flap 0." And this: "4 A of A, 10:1 in C152."

I repeated this mumbo-jumbo aloud over and over, hoping to find some sort of rhythm or cadence that would help me to understand the meanings, but with no success whatsoever.

Mike sent me out to do the preflight check, which gave me much pleasure. I was slightly more confident than before, and decided to use the ploy that cowboys use on a skittish bronc. I ran my hands intimately over the skin of the airplane, patting here and there and crooning little reassuring sounds deep in my throat, to soothe in advance any misgivings it might develop towards me. I didn't really believe that a plane could sense such things, but I didn't want to take any chances. Anyway, I had nothing to lose.

However, I did this while Mike was lingering in the office. Once I have perfected this pacification technique and success is guaranteed I will make my method available to the whole air club; I would feel adequately rewarded if only one other pilot benefited from my efforts; I am generous that way.

I went in and alerted Mike and we went out together to make the takeoff. I think the preflight, run-up and various checks are all getting manageable, especially with someone sitting beside me reminding me ahead of time. I will need a lot of practice on the radio calls though, because they all have the same level of intelligibility as "4 A of A, 10:1 in C152," which, of course, is nil intelligibility.

I managed the foot pedals very well this time, even through liftoff, though my intense concentration on the foot-pedals caused me to take much longer to reach full-throttle. My hands were obviously operating independently of my feet; no relationship existed between them. We had plenty of runway left after liftoff, however. No problem. Mike didn't even mention it. He may have had a few thoughts, but was gentleman enough, even at his tender age, to keep them to himself.

We headed for the training area and began the exercises. The idea was to learn to climb, to level off, descend in a glide, then climb again, level off again, and descend under power. The basic thing for me to learn was to do the things in proper sequence, and learn to monitor the manoeuvre on the instruments.

This meant in each case that I (1) adjusted the throttle to arrive at the proper number of RPMs for the manoeuvre: 2300 for level, 2500 for climb, 1900 for glide; (2) set the attitude for the manoeuvre: nose-up for climb, down for glide, about 4" above the instrument panel for level; (3) check the instruments: altimeter, vertical speed indicator, and especially the airspeed indicator; and then (4) trim for comfortable flying.

I don't remember doing any of it. I simply followed Mike's directions as best I could.

Mike was very good, very clear in his instructions. He would say, "Climb to 2500 feet." And I would do it. When we were getting close to the new altitude he would say, "You're getting close, so prepare to level off."

The landing was not a problem due to the fact that Mike's pressure on the controls was every bit as assertive as Alastair's had been. Which only proves that Mike's approach to staying alive is just as valid as Alastair's. I don't blame him. My impression at the moment is that the landing will prove to be my biggest hurdle. Or, put another way, it seems at the moment to be the more impossible of several dozen impossible situations.

Again we had a crosswind to land in and there was the usual skittering around trying to line the plane up properly. I was controlling it fairly well, I thought, but too slowly. I seemed to know what moves to make but needed to make them more quickly. And all the while Mike was talking to me.

Incidentally, having an instructor talk to you during a landing is absolutely the clearest and most precise example of a "love/hate" relationship. I hate having to listen and respond to a voice coming through my headphones while I am trying to recall those steps to take that will prevent me killing myself. Yet I must love the fact that were it not for those words I would have killed myself.

Anyway, we landed OK, taxied OK, turned all those things off OK. Then decided to go for petrol. So we started up again and went over to the fuel pump. I didn't disgrace myself too badly getting to the fuel pumps.

They have a neat system for getting petrol. Each plane has it's own key that unlocks a drawer arrangement on a stand at the pumps. In the proper drawer there lies a credit card. Slide the card down the slot and it activates the petrol pump. Put the card away and proceed to fill up the tanks.

It seems to me that this is clever. Very clever.

Chapter Five: Notes on Lesson Four -- Medium Turns

Things seem to be getting easier, although the lecture portion is still not easy to grasp due to the language barrier. I now know how to get the most out of the lecture though: I simply request the instructor, after he has demonstrated his fluency in gobbledygook, to say it again in language we humans can understand. This immediately increases the portion I can understand to slightly more than 15%.

Still, I do have a part to play; I must begin to make myself concentrate and learn. The theory part of anything has always been the tough part for me; anything the accomplishment of which requires serious thought tends to stump me. Or at least slow me down. The practical part is easier. Still, I caught much of what he said. Whether I will be able to put it into practice will be the question.

The preflight went smoothly. I discovered that the previous pilot had not parked the brakes after the previous flight, and I felt vastly superior. I would never forget to park the brakes.

Now then, there is a thing referred to as The Run Up. I'm happy to explain it to you. For the Run-up we taxied down to a separate area. Incidentally, my taxiing is improving by leaps and bounds, and I don't necessarily mean that as a description of how I went down the taxiway.

There is a nice little concrete area set apart from the taxiway, and we turned onto it in a tight little half-circle, facing back in the direction we had come from. That put our nose into the wind, which is where the nose should be pointing for a Run Up.

The Run Up is composed of several actions. It involves revving up the engine and watching some dials with needles in them. And pulling out a knob or two and pushing them back in. The funny part is that when you pull out the knob the engine sounds different.

Mike said, "Hear that?"

"Uh, hear what?" I replied.

Then by turning the ignition switch back and forth that too makes the engine sound different. Seemed very odd, having an engine that had so many different sounds. But it must be the latest thing, because Mike was getting a kick out of playing with it.

After the Run Up was completed I turned in a tiny little circle to continue over to the Pre-takeoff and DVA area. I learned that I must give the throttle a pretty generous push to get the plane moving from a dead stop. And I learned that a correctly timed nudge of the brake with the pedal can keep you in the right direction, the center of the runway. It is advisable to not let the brake do it all, though. Let the wheels keep some headway on, even in turning tightly. Saves the tread and makes things smoother, according to Mike.

DVA, you will be interested to know, means Drill of Vital Actions. "Vital actions" had an ominous ring and suggested imminent danger, and I was suddenly on the edge of my seat. What vital actions, I wondered?

I kept a sharp lookout lest a danger should be upon me before I was ready.

I think, I really do think, that I managed the whole takeoff this time. I pushed the throttle fully forward more quickly than last time, the plane stayed in the center of the runway, I pulled back gently and the plane went up smoothly. At least to me it seemed smooth. I think Mike may have said something to me, like, "Lift it up," but in the main I just did what seemed right to do and it worked.

After we gained altitude Mike said, "Do a left turn and head for the Whangaparaoa Peninsula." I thought he had it wrong. Whangaparaoa was in the other direction. I later learned that the 21 in Runway 21 means a compass heading of 210, which is south-south-east, not 021, which is north-north-west, as I had earlier thought. I had everything just backwards. I suppose having things backwards is not good for a trainee, although when an instructor young enough to be your grandson corrects you firmly it could help to build character, maybe.

Then we turned northerly and crossed over Orewa and out over the water south of Kawau Island. Mike did a couple of turns, explaining as we went, then allowed me to try a few.

You would think, wouldn't you, that turning in a circle would be a relatively simple procedure. And it is, I think, in an automobile, but for some reason doing it in an airplane makes it complicated.

First of all there is the matter of keeping a lookout. It goes something like this: When I am turning left I look out for other aircraft by looking back over my right shoulder. If a plane was passing behind me, and I started my search from the left side, he could possibly keep out of my vision if he happened to be flying at a speed comparable with the turning of my head. Get the picture? If, say, he was flying across my tail, going from my right shoulder past my back and towards the left shoulder, and I started looking with my head turned left and moved to my right, theoretically he could be just out of my vision all the time. Then when I turned left I could turn into him.

Well, I understand it anyway.

My biggest problem in making the turns seems to be that I would gain or lose altitude while turning. As with all other aspects of flying, there is a principle involved: If I bank too steeply, the upper wing travels faster, creates more lift, and some drag, and can then send me downwards, unless I counter the move by keeping the plane in balance.

I didn't make use often enough of the blackball gauge. If I had "kicked" the ball back into the center when it strayed -- that is, use the rudder -- the plane would have maintained a balance and the banks would have been more uniform. I tried to do it all with the attitude of the nose. I also didn't, at first, rely strongly enough on my eyes telling me how the horizon was lined up.

After a few turns I learned to watch the AH (artificial horizon) for the first few seconds to get the attitude at exactly 30, then see where that placed the horizon in relation to the instrument panel. It was a diagonal line running from just under the air vent in the upper left corner of the windscreen to the center of the nose. That was for a left bank.

For a right bank the horizon line ran from the lower left corner of the windscreen to the upper right corner of the windscreen. And once I had that visual guide it became simpler to just jiggle the controls in such a way that I maintained the horizon on it's proper diagonal.

(Note: At the time of writing the notes I wasn't aware that I was already sitting in the pilot's seat; I thought I was in the passenger seat, and was trying to visualize the angles from over on the other side of the plane. I had been quietly imagining the day would come when I would be able to sit over on the opposite seat like a real pilot, and I had been in the pilot's seat all the time. That explains why the instruments are all on this side of the instrument panel.)

So there is more to turning an airplane than simply turning the wheel. There were surprises. At times the plane seemed to inexplicably tilt further than I expected it to. Or to gain altitude suddenly. Or lose it. I found myself wondering if Mike had pre-programmed the thing to act arbitrarily, just to throw me off the scent. He seemed such a nice boy.

But the practice was good, and I don't think I will have too much trouble mastering the manoeuvre. One disquieting note, however, crept in when Mike showed me a steep bank. Listen, he stood the plane up on one wingtip and spun it around, and a giant hand shoved me deep into my seat and held me there! And my eyes couldn't see. I tried to make myself watch Mike's hand on the throttle during the turn, and it took a real effort.

My eyeballs weighed 40 pounds each, and didn't want to focus; they wanted to spin around. Mike said later it was about a 60 turn, but the diagonal line of the horizon was dang near perpendicular! Honest, it was like straight up and down. That will take some getting used to.

When I could see again we headed back to NSAC, Mike Saying and me Doing. He took the controls for the landing, instructing me to keep my hands on them lightly so as to feel what he was doing. I was a bit lost. The moves seemed foreign to my hands. The one thing I did get out of it, though, was that I must really keep lots of back pressure on the controls once we are lined up above the runway. Keep the nose wheel from touching the ground for a long, long time, until the loss of speed drops the plane on the other wheels. Then let the nose down.

That's all there is to it, really, Mike says, but I am holding off on any celebrations just yet.

(The story continues in Chapters 6 and 7 ...)

Editor's Note: AVweb is serializing several sections of John Ewing's book, "The Cessna, The Sky ... and the Cartoonist," starting with Chapter One. If you want to read the whole book, you can order it from John's Web site.