The Cessna, The Sky ... and the Cartoonist: Chapters Eight and Nine

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Some people say it's hard to spin a Cessna. Harder than some other planes, maybe, but our student pilot and illustrator John Ewing figures out a way to do it in his little C152. AVweb presents two more chapters from John's book in our series about learning to fly 'down under.'

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

Chapter Eight: Notes on Lesson Six -- Advanced Stalls

Cessna and Cartoonist

The weather looked pretty rough driving out to Dairy Flat. Low clouds and rain showers. I was sure we would have to scrub the flight, although there were a few small open patches in the sky. But the small patches gradually got larger and it soon cleared up well enough that we managed to get started. It rained heavily, though, during the Engine Start and we paused for a minute or two. It was just a passing shower.

I had been curious about how bad the weather had to be before stopping flyers from flying. Evidently not much prevents a good pilot in a well-equipped airplane from doing whatever he wants to do. Certainly not a rain shower, and I don't remember whether I received that piece of news with unalloyed joy. I hadn't spent much time thinking about the weather up to that point. The mental picture I had of myself flying was always against a backdrop of clear and friendly and sunny skies with puffy clouds hovering benignly, smilingly, in the distance. Dark clouds and rain were a factor that had never entered into my thinking; I would have to categorize this new factor.

Things went smoothly enough, except for one little thing. Vaun's attention was diverted by a radio communication with someone during our DVAs, and I wasn't paying strict enough attention to my check list, so we took off, quite nicely, as a matter of fact, without flaps.

I believe I had a full 100% of the take off this time. I was aware that we seemed to take an awful long time to get off the ground but in the euphoria of an "instructor-free" T.O. I attached no significance to that fact. I checked the altimeter passing through 250 feet and reached for the flap lever. To my surprise the flaps were already up. I assumed Vaun must have done it and asked him. That's when I learned that we took off with no flaps. Vaun just chuckled and said, "OK, we got up. Just used more of the runway than usual." Still, I considered it a mark against me. A mistake is a mistake.

Climbed to our altitude, turned out over the Wade River estuary and over the water south of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Now, instead of the Basic Stall, Vaun did a Power-On Stall, then talked me through one. Then a Power On/ Flaps Down Stall, and talked me through one. Then a Power Off/Flaps Down Stall, and talked me through one. These Stalls were new. These Stalls were slightly different from the Basic Stall, as you will see. These new ones required me to be aware of more factors than did the Basic Stall. I now had to contend with such extra things as speed and flaps. My brain would have to contemplate a couple more items, and my hands would have to reach over and flip a couple more levers. More in the long parade of demands made on this mere mortal.

In each case Vaun let me "set up" for the Stalls, which was simply a matter of making sure I went through the HASELL checks correctly. We had to be high enough, make sure no other planes were in our vicinity, no homes or hearths beneath us, nothing adrift in the airplane, and turn the carb heat on. That was "setting up".

After setting up, and when I was ready to do the Stall, I simply pulled the throttle out all the way for a power-off Stall, and out to 1500 rpm for the power-on Stalls. I watched the speed drop down to safe-flap level, then lowered the flaps. I then concentrated on using back pressure on the controls column to maintain my altitude.

The part of these Stalls that I had been apprehensive of was that a wing was expected to drop and I was to correct it by using the opposite rudder. To be honest, I didn't want the wing to drop. I wanted the plane to stay level, because I wasn't confident that I could cope with a wing dropping.

But as it turned out, the wing drops were quite mild. Vaun tried inducing some wing drop on another Stall, and there was definitely more of a wing drop, but still not enough to get excited about. I was told that one of the idiosyncrasies of the Cessna was that the wing didn't drop much during a Stall. I considered this a plus idiosyncrasy rather than a minus one. I pictured myself in a used Cessna lot, kicking the tires and asking the dealer, "Uh, how about wingdrop, uh, what does she do?"

Vaun finally got the wing to drop for me and I think I used the wrong rudder for a second. Vaun said later that he felt my foot correct itself, but it may have been simply that I was kicking with both feet just to make sure I was at least 50% right.

I managed a much quicker recovery from these Stalls than the earlier ones, on average. But I also had another of those headfirst dives toward the ocean. What would have been a loss of perhaps 100 feet of altitude became a loss of about 200 feet when I allowed us to plummet another 100 feet downwards before effecting recovery. I must not push the control stick so far forward next time. Or not keep it forward for so long. Or something.

On our way back to NSAC Vaun talked me through Circuit Joining, which is my next exercise coming up. I grasped nothing of what he told me. It is perhaps significant, though, and comforting, that I spotted the windsock from the air this time and got the direction of the wind. A very welcome first for me. And I found myself growing more and more suspicious of the writers of flying stories who glibly gloss over such things as locating the windsock. It's just simply not as easy as they make it sound. I'd like to get one of those writers to come up with me during the summer when the grass is yellow-brown, and have him find the yellow windsock on an airstrip he hasn't been to before.

But maybe that's sour grapes because those writers have had their writing published ...

Again I managed a sizeable portion of the landing, although Vaun handled the throttle.

Taxiing is definitely getting easier. I am definitely seeing the instrument panel much better, sometimes for periods as long as two or three seconds.

Trimming has a more familiar feel now. I can feel the load on the control column lighten when I trim correctly.

My turns are smoother and I maintain my altitude during turns more easily.

I am thinking more quickly when it comes to adjusting from full-throttle, as in a climb, to level flight speed, 2300 rpm.

And I am also getting a glimpse of the horizon once in a while, a thing I enjoy tremendously and a thing which I hope will become a regular event for me. In fact, I am told that the examining officer, should I ever reach a point in time when he or she may be sitting beside me, will not want me to have my eyes glued exclusively on the instruments during my test. This suggests I will be watching the horizon more and more as time goes by. I hope this turns out to be so.

Progress. Progress is coming, Slowly, yes; but it's coming ...

Chapter Nine: Revision III -- Medium Turns, Climbing and Descending, Stalls

Another beautiful day for flying and I booked for more Stall Revision. I was full of anticipation, eager to consolidate some of what I had covered lately. I was certain that the Stall had met its Master, was conquered, subdued, kaput; but I wanted to drive one final stake through it's heart and be done with it forever.

As it turned out I was so dumb and clumsy I would have been quite at home in kindergarten, playing in the sand box with my peers. I suppose I must tell you about it, though I hate and despise the notion that it might tarnish the image of me you have built up. However, that is something we in the upper echelons must constantly face.

That and the papparazzi.

I started the day's events by pre-flighting the wrong airplane. I was sure Vaun said Charlie but in fact we were scheduled for Delta. O.K. I just started over. Whoever was next to fly Charlie I guarantee she was ready.

The second problem was that during the preliminaries -- I was shuffling clumsily around to check whether I had my headphones plugged in properly -- my seat slipped out of it's sockets and slipped back so far that my legs barely reached the pedals. I wasn't aware at first how this would affect me, and to be truthful I was also too embarrassed to start jiggling the seat around again, though I'm sure Vaun would have thought nothing of it.

I decided to leave the seat that way, thinking I could manage. It was a wrong decision. I was in a stretched and strained attitude throughout the whole flight, and as I reached for various knobs and levers I was very much like a man with an axe chasing a chicken around the barnyard. But less smelly and without the feathers. I also found it difficult to reach the knobs and throttles and the wheel with the bumps on it.

The take off was again 100% mine, and much better this time because I remembered to use the flaps.

We climbed over Orewa and did a couple of medium 360 turns. I managed well enough, but still have a tendency to gain or lose altitude during the turns. I haven't as yet trained my eye to scan back and forth quickly across the instrument panel, nor am I absolutely sure the altimeter, or whatever, will be in the same place on the instrument panel it was last time. The dials seem to change places from time to time without notice. I noticed it before.

During these turns I was advised by Vaun to keep my hand on the throttle. Seems the throttle can work in and/or out from the vibration of the plane. That's not the sort of thing I want happening in any plane I fly, so I kept my hand on the throttle. And will do it from now on.

Then we did some Stalls. And one of them was, um, well, let me put it this way: it was a monumental Stall.

And so I am now faced with a momentous question: will I have the nerve to try a few Stalls once I am permitted to fly by myself? Because today I flipped the plane almost upside down trying to recover from a Stall. It would make a great story for me to tell someone if I could remember how it happened.

I think, and Vaun agrees, that I coincidentally gave the plane a generous whack of left rudder at just the time she was stalled and tilting up on her left wing. The resulting manoeuvre had Delta doing an unbelievably lively imitation of a corkscrew. This had the makings of the mother of all spins! The bottom simply dropped from under me. Delta turned her belly up to the sky and headed for the nearest planet.

Vaun gave a little yelp and grabbed the controls, undoubtedly taking a quick mental inventory of his insurance coverage.

But -- and this is what makes flying so frighteningly wonderful -- contrary to what a layman might think, the recovery technique worked quite well. Just took longer because we were much more steeply inverted. We lost about 300 feet instead of seventy.

I didn't particularly enjoy those 300 feet, for during that 300 feet my heart, lungs, stomach, and possibly the liver and pancreas, all took turns swapping places, without so much as a "by your leave" to me.

And even today I am not positive that those miscreant organs ever did return to their rightful positions.

Vaun took it very calmly, saying "That one was about as bad as they ever get." Comforting words, I suppose, but the edge to my enthusiasm had gone. The comforting words had no effect.

Powered descent back towards NSAC and as I jockeyed into the circuit pattern I got lost as to where everything was. I strayed off course over the rock quarry and was never sure which leg I was on.

Everywhere I looked seemed strange and unfamiliar. Things were underneath me that weren't there on my last flight, of that I am positive; someone had done a fair bit of changing things around, and I'd like to get the guy in a small room with just me and a baseball bat. It is a terrible and humiliating thing to be taking the actions required for the Final when in fact you are on Downwind. And vice versa.

Vaun took over the throttle operation and told me to just fly the airplane. Well, that was no help until he also told me which direction to fly. And how high to fly. Delta simply wobbled all over everywhere. I wonder if I'll ever reach the point where I can maintain control over the airplane for periods longer than two minutes.

My next series of lessons has to do with Circuits, which I think means flying around over the airfield in big circles, and maybe landing every so often. Perhaps that sort of thing could cause some sort of breakthrough for me.

Dang, I hope so. I need it. Because I have learned that I cannot be content ever again unless I have at least the possibility of flying an airplane. Something has taken place within me, which I do not understand entirely, that suddenly makes all other pursuits pale into a drab and intolerable grayness. I don't know if that makes me some sort of an addict, and I don't care if it does, but if I do not sooner or later become sufficiently qualified to be trusted in an airplane, I , well, I don't know what I will do, but it won't be pretty ...

(The story continues in Chapters 10, 11 and 12 ...)

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.