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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Man of the hour ...

The day before yesterday, it finally happened: I got to log my first official PPL hour!
I did not fly in one of the potential participation planes, but in a C172M, reg. PH-ACT. It had to be a 4-seater, because I wanted my wife to fly along, to see if she dreaded flying in such a small sardine can as much as she anticipated. Luckily, that was not the case.
The original appointment was at 10AM, so at 8AM I checked the METARs and TAFs of all surrounding airports (EHLE does not have METARs, let alone TAFs), and "buirenradar" (a Dutch site with current and extrapolated rainfall radar images). My conclusion was that it would be VMC from 1600LT onwards, but less than 10 minutes later, my instructor called to reschedule to 1300LT. He said he had all confidence that the weather would look better from then on.

When we did not get a cancellation notice by noon, we decided to head for Lelystad Airport. It was still raining at the camping when we left, but "buienradar" said it would be dry soon, and stay dry for the rest of the day. With the rain clouds at 700ft, and the intention to fly overhead the camping, they needed to clear out pretty soon...
Way too early, we arrived at the airport, at Zelf Vliegen. So we hung out at the terrace for a bit, shooting pictures of the Red Bull Aerobatics planes parked next to the tower. I had never seen those Zlin Z50-LXes at Lelystad before, so that was a nice surprise. Furthermore, we watched a DA-20 doing touch-and-goes, and a DA-40 (PH-FLD of Diamond Flyers) coming to get fuel. At some point, it was even quite busy in the circuit. It was obvious that everybody wanted to make up for lost flying time after the horrible weather of the past weeks.
At 1300LT, my instructor came to explain how an airplane works, and how to control it (pitch = speed, throttle = height). Not much new there for me, as I am an experiennced Flight Simulator pilot.Nothing like the real thing, of cause, but the theoretical basis is there already. Time to head for the plane!
PH-ACT is the most recent addition to the Zelf Vliegen Fleet. A C172M with a 180hp (as opposed to the standard 160 hp) engine up front. So power is in surplus, today :)
I got to taxi out, which was the first confrontation of how different FS can be from the real world. It is kinda tricky, rudder steering and speed control. But I got the hang of it, more or less, by the time we got to the run-up area. After the run-up tests, we were airborne surprisingly quickly. Just a few seconds of full throttle, and the 65 kts "rotate" speed is there already. Climbing out at 75 kts, a turn to the left, and then a 45 degree turn to the right to leave the circuit in a southern direction. Level of at 1000 ft, turn east, trim, ... All handling was surprisingly equal to FS, and exactly as I had pictured in my mind already. Of cause with all accelerations bumps, smells, noise, etc., this is a far better experience :)
"Straight and level" was a breeze. The C172 lets herself be trimmed quite easily, and it's all smooth sailing from then on. There was only about 3 kts of wind, so no need to correct too much, whichever direction we were flying. "Level turns, medium" als went very well, thanks to my FS experience. The amount of pull on the stick needed to compensate for the loss of lift was very close to what I was already used to. Plus scanning the instruments for speed, vertical speed, altitude, was already in my system as a SOP. Small corrections, and nice and level. No rudder needed yet. "Cornering comfortably". We did not do more exercises, because the clouds were still a bit low. So there was no room for a lot of climbing and descending. Furthermore, this was enough of a test for my wife for one day ;)
We flew via Harderwijk, and Nunspeet to the camping where the cloud base was now at a little over 1000 ft. After 3 orbits we proceeded in a south-westerly direction. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to switch on my GPS logger when we entered the plane.
Through Vliegverkeer InZicht I managed to get the following picture of our flight in retrospect:

We circled Muiden vesting, passed PAM VOR, then headed north-east over Markermeer to the top of Almere. Then eastbound to avoid the Oostvaardersplassen, and join the N305 north-east bound to reporting point Bravo @ 700ft. Then came the difficult bit: the circuit. slowing down to 80 kts, trimming to maintain 700, and then things started to happen really fast. 90 degree RH turn to join downwind rwy23, maintain altitude (should have added a little power during the turn), reduce speed to 70 kts, reduce power to descend 500 ft/min, LH descending turn for base leg, monitor course, vertical speed, speed, speed, speed, LH turn to final, speed, vertical speed, align, speed, speed, vertical speed, align , ... sh#$%t, correction to the right,  speed, vertical speed, add a little power to not land in the grass in front of the runway, not that much power!, speed, vertical speed, alignment (OK), close throttle over threshold, flare, too soon, too much, speed, vertical speed, pull back, pull back more, ... , squeak (nice, little one), gently ease the yoke forward, pfew! Breathe... Only small corrections by the instructor
Vacated @ C and taxi back to the hangar. One hour is way too short. This tastes like more!

Later added:
I was spotted during my first official flying lesson :)

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