Lesson 2 - Monday January 26th 2004

Climbing and descending

My first real lesson today, out of which the most important thing I learnt is: "never fly on an empty stomach".

No photos today, I figure I'm going to concentrate on flying.  After a while the photos will all look the same anyway.

I arrived a little early, at around 10:50 for my 11:00 lesson.  Tanya had just landed with her previous student, and after a few minutes she arrived back at the office with him: a German guy.  While Tanya popped out for a second, he told me that Tanya is great.  I heard him discussing getting to the end of his first page of the log book, he'd done around seven hours.

Tanya take me back into a small classroom to explain that we will be doing climbing and descending today, and draws a little diagram, saying when we go down, it's Power, Pitch and Trim, and when we up down it's Pitch, Power, and Trim.  Unfortunately I can't remember exactly how this goes.  She also tells me you start the maneuver at about 10% of your climb rate before your target altitude. So if climbing at 500 feet/minute, you would start at 50 feet before your target, like 4450 for 4500ft.

So, we walk out to the plane.  N8567C , a PA28-151 Piper Warrior.  This time we do an EXTENSIVE pre-flight in much more detail than before, as it's something I've got to learn.  I'm not sure I remember it all correctly, but I'm going to recount what I do, fee free to skip over to the takeoff...

Pre-flight checklist

Now, we didn't actually use a checklist.  But it was basically the same order as the checklist I'd been studying last night.  First we started in the cockpit, where we checked the Hobbs and Tach counters matched the numbers in the plane's log book.  Then we switch on the master switch, lower the flaps, check the fuel gauges register fuel, and turn on the exterior light.  Then we step out of the plane and walk around it, checking the lights are on.   Today the left wing tip light (red, I think) was actually not working.  But Tanya said as long as we had the strobe (on top of the tail), we would be okay (legally speaking).

Then we get back to the cabin door, behind the right wing, and start the main checklist:

Flaps - Check the tension bolt has a bit of play.  Check the hinges still have their cotter pins, check all rivets and screws appear okay.

Ailerons - Check hinges, rivets, etc. Check movement.

Wingtip - This is covered by a "fairing" which is mostly cosmetic, so not so important.  Check for obvious damage.

Leading edge of wing - Check for damage like dents and stuff.  I saw a dent and Tanya showed me under the plane where someone had turned too close to a red stand-pipe, and the wing had scraped completely over it, leaving a red scrape from the front to the back of the wing underneath.

Fuel Drain - Tanya drained some fuel, checked it, and dumped it on the ground.

Landing Gear - Check tire for bald spots.  It's actually pretty much covered up, so you can't see 80% of it.  There was wear on one side, but not too bad.

Engine - Tanya removed the engine cowling on one side (it just unlatches, and folds up, and checked the oil (6 Qts), then showed me how to latch it securely (hook it under, push it in and twist). 

Propeller - feel all four edges for cracks and stuff.  Look at is as well.  Check the Spinner (the cone shaped thing in the middle of the propeller) for cracks.

Engine, on the other side - Visual inspection.  Also checked the brake fluid, but could not clearly see where the line was.  Might have been a bit low.  Also drained and checked some more fuel.

Left wing - I got to check the fuel this time.  Very straightforward. There is a tester that's like a plastic test-tube, you just push it against the drain, and fuel squirts into it.  You fill it about 2/3 full, then look at it to see that it's a faint blue color, and that there are no water bubbles at the bottom (water is heavier than fuel), and that there is no debris in it.

Stall Warning - There's a stall warning indication of the leading edge of the left wing.  Normally you can check this when you check the lights, but Tanya said it was not working very well, so we did not.

Fuselage - Mostly a visual check for loose screws, but also check that no aerials had fallen off .

Tail - Check the stabilator moves, check the trim tab moves with the stabilator, check the "Jesus Bolt" (the bolt that connects the control yoke to the stabilator, a very important bolt, kind of like the bolt that attached your steering wheel to your front wheels, so named because A - Without you are doomed, or B - When it fails you shout "Jesus!").

And we are back round at the passenger door.  So, let's hop in!


Tanya does the radio calls, and we taxi off to takeoff.  She tell me to put my toes on the rudder control, so I can feel what she is doing.   You mostly use the rudder to steer (with your feet), but you use the brakes for sharper turns (and to stop!).  Each wheel brakes independently, so if you full brake one wheel, the plane will spin about that wheel.

We arrive at the runway, switch to tower, wait for a couple of planes to land, and one go-around (where a plane was going to land, but decided not to), and then we are on the runway, and accelerate and take off.   Tanya does the "VOR to golf course" maneuver, and then we are heading pretty much to the Sea Colony twin towers on the coast.  Tanya lets me take the controls.  I steer us forward, then turn right along the coast and we climb towards 4500 feet.

Up, down, left, right!

At 4450 feet we reduce power, push the nose down, and trim the plane for level flight.  Power, Pitch, Trim. (dang I can't remember the order.  When I do remember I'll come back and edit this page).

We then fly straight and level for a while, then descend, then level, then climb, then turn a bit to avoid some clouds, looking out for other planes, repeat.

I'm getting kind of hot by this point.  My sunglasses are steaming up, and I'm sweating like a racehorse.  I wonder how anyone can stand to be in such a plane without air condition.  I sit and stew, starting feel a little queasy.

Tanya had mentioned that there was a vent to the right of the seat, low down where the door would be.  But I'd not managed to find it then as I was too busy trying to steer.  She must have notice me dripping with sweat, as she mentioned it again.  "It's got several settings" she said, as I struggled with what felt like a rotating piece of plastic with a few large holes in it.  No air was coming from it, but then I looked down and noticed a small lever above it. I flipped it back and LO it was the world's best air conditioning (actually just the outside air blown in at 100MPH).  A strong blast of icy air immediately began to freeze my legs and I felt a little better.

So now Tanya decides to show me a few more turns, so we turn left and right for a while, and then she starts on the rudder, which basically makes the plane skid sideways then lurch back to the right direction.  I begin to feel somewhat queasy, and we then do a few more rudder turns, and a few more banked turns at different angles, seeing how the angle of the horizon matches the angle on the attitude indicator, presumably so you can judge turn bank angles if it breaks.

Flying Back

So by this time I'm not feeling too well.  It was around 12:15, and I'd only had a piece of chocolate to eat all day, so I'm suffering from motion sickness combined with dehydration and low blood sugar.  I start to feel sick, and my arms start to tingle.  Tanya says "how you doing?".  I say "A little queasy".  She gives me a mint, and tells me we are heading back home anyway.

We fly back more or less in a straight light, following the coast, and then turning inland around Pacific Palisades.  I can see the airport in the distance, and we head for that.  Tanya tells me that if you can't see the airport, you head just to the right of the downtown Santa Monica hotels.  You can also see the 10 freeway, which extends back from the pier, as another good point of reference.  Santa Monica Airport has a big curved hanger in the middle, a nice point to aim for.

We're descending at this point, heading for pattern altitude of 1300 feet.  We enter right pattern, and do a rather tight base leg, which did not help.  I saw the nice solid ground drift towards me, and looked forward to getting out of the plane.

Landing, going around

We touch down, the plane lurched a little to one side, Tanya said "golly!" (or something similar, but more American, my memory is hazy), and we bounce back into the air.  She lowers us again, and again feel a lurch, "cripes" she says, "I'm going around".   My stomach screams a silent "nooooooo!", as she opens the throttle and we power back up into the sky.

"That right strut's been acting a bit funny", she says, "It's probably fine, but it's always better to be safe".  

I'm inclined to disagree,  feeling a distinct need to get onto terra firma, but I don't have much option at the point.  Tower clears us into left pattern, and we go around.  "Sorry," says Tanya, "Have another mint."  She passes me the box, but we are all out of mints at this point.  I take deep breaths.

Some Lear jet is ahead of us now on a long final, so we have to go all the way out to century city, then come it a bit slower this time, with full flaps.  Tanya sets us down gently, but the plane still jumps a bit to one side.   Phew!  We are on the ground. 

She stops the plane (which is leaning a bit to the right), and we taxi back.  I get out and sit on the ground for a while, letting Tanya push the plane back by herself.  We go back to the office, and I book another flight for Friday, at 1PM.   Next time I'll make sure to have lunch!