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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

SOLO !!!

I knew it was due some time soon, yet fully unexpected I got to fly solo!

I had not flown in 4 weeks, and in my opinion it was only then that I had shown true proficiency in circuittry. And because the weather looked marginally at first, we were going to use this lesson to practice circuits again in all their variants. That is to say: normal landings, but also flapless, and glide-ins from 1000ft. I had expected this lesson to be all about speed control, and the next one focussed on forced landings. Maybe my first solo would be the lesson after that, or even after that one. Probably in December or so. But no! It was this lesson already! :)

Piet leaving the plane...

The day started with mist, followed by sunshine. Just as predected, by the end of the morning, clouds would draw in, and cause some rain with a slight chance of thunder and turbulence. I was going to leave my work at around 14:00, so during lunch break I checked the lates METARs and TAFs (weather reports and forecasts). That did not make me feel much beter. The "standard" weather was kind of marginal already, with a cloud base at 2200ft, 8km (5 nm) visibility, and winds from 180 degrees, 10 to 15 knots. But the "PROB30" (30% probability) wind 200 degrees, 15 knots, gusts 27, with an 1800ft cloudbase, and 5 km (3nm) visibility could be a reason to stay on the ground for this lesson. So, before leaving, I called my instructor to hear his thoughts. He was convinced we would have suitable weather to fly at least for circuit practice, staying close to the field. That 30% probability is more like 10% in practice, he said. So, with that mind set I left the office for Lelystad Airport.
Much to my surprise, I drove into a tunnel, while under a low, dark grey overcast that touched the chimneys of an energy plant I was driving by, and I drove out of that tunnel under a much lighter sky with even some blue patches! This is going in the right direction! :)
When I arrived at the airport, I first took a couple of pictures of the two Peruvian F-60s (military variant of the F-50), which were recently sold by the Royal Netherlands Air Force. They were re-painted by QAPS, which house right behind our hangar, and today, both of them were visible at the same time.
Then I did the walk-around of my airplane, put her outside, and went back in to finish my flight preparation. Weather was done already, NOTAMs had nothing important to say, except maybe some RC flying West of Dronten, but that would only be up to 400ft. While Piet started work on updating the Garmin databases, I did the Weight and Balance calculations, assuming half-full tanks. We would have to fill her up anyway, because there was only for about 1 hr worth of fuel in the tanks. Half-full is still within  the weight and balance limits, and will give us some 3 hours worth of flying time (with enough reserves to be diverting after that).
So off to the fuel station. The fuel gauges indicated that the lefthand tank was filled well les than the righthand tank. So we put in a little more on the left side, a little less on the right side. After that, the left gauge indicated way more fuel than the right gauge. That shows that these gauges are indeed as inaccurate as the are said to be :) Ah well, we'l simply start off on the left tank.
As said, the circuitry today consists of all types of landings.We start off with a couple of "normal" landings. That is: with full flaps, and standard speeds throughout the circuit. That goes well, right from the start, so after a few landings, we go for flapless landings. Flapless landings are with a higher pitch because of the obvious lack of flaps, and with a slightly higher speed, becuse the stall speed is higher. All timings and adjustments are different, resulting in a flatter approach, with higher speed, and less view out the front. These went well too, so we went on to three glide-ins from 1000ft. That simulates the same conditions as with forced landings: no power and 1000 ft at the threshold of the landing field. A bit more pronunciated where to land, of course, but it is all about the gliding characteristics now. Two out of three went reasonably well. With one I came out short of the runway. There is some room for improvement there ;)
After another couple of normal landings, which all went well, the clock said well over 1 hour flown, and 10 landings. So when Piet said "the next one will be a full stop", I just assumed this was the end of the flying lesson for today. But, while turning off the runway, he said "How would you like to give it a go yourself?". Boink, boink, boink, ... my heartrate went up a notch. Did I hear this correctly? Yes, I did!
I get to go SOLO!!!

I let Piet out at Air Waterland, after consulting with Tower. From then on, I'm on my own. I find myself messing around with the checklist. Read, Do, come back to the checklist... where was I... "Don't drive yourself crazy, E-J. You've done this before, you can do this". While I start taxiing, I call Tower without previously thinking about what I am going to say (let alone what to expect back in return). Beginner's mistake! I stumble over my wordt, and manage to get "1 POB" (Person(s) on Board) out, but I forget to tell the pilot's name. The controler calmly asks for it, and then I get to say: "Pilot's name is Oud; Oscar Uniform Delta". That's when it hits me: It is ME that is alone in this airplane, and it is ME that is going to make  this thing fly! :)
I regain myself while taxiing out to the run-up area, where I perform the run-up checks as I have already done so many times before. By the time I am ready for departure, I am "me" again.
Take off goes smoothly. A touch more directional control (feet) would be nice, next time. My very first solo landing is simply good. Well felt, but not too hard. So flaps up one notch, Carburettor Heat in, and full throttle. I landed slightly off to the right of the center line, so I want to use the left tendency that comes with opening up the throttle to get me back on track. That makes for it that it shows a little swervy, so I'll try to improve on that next time around. That begins with landing on the center line, of course ;)
I come in a little low on my second landing, so I have to thottle up to reduce the descend rate. That poses the risk of accelerating, and coming in fast (especially with a sleak plane like this Aquila). So I increase very slowly, and over the threshold I reduce throttle very slowly. I try to maintain about 1ft above the runway, which works out wonderfully well. Maintianing that "altitude" reduces speed to the point where I cannot possibly maintain that 1ft altitude anymore, and the airplane gently "sits down", right at the beginning of "the blocks" (touchdown markers; aiming point for landings), and on the center line! Flaps up 1, Carb Heat in, Full throttle. This time with exactly the right amount of feet to maintain straight on the center line :) A little back pressure on the stick, and we're off again. Proud of this combo! I put another notch on my kneepad (that's for counting landings), and when I look up again, I see a flock of birds passing just above my climb path... Keep your eyes outside, E-J!

According to plan, I was going to make one more landing, but I made a mess out of that one. The speed indicator bounces up and down from 60 knots to 70 knots (too slow to too fast), so it's difficult to maintain proper speed control. Then, while rounding off, I misjudge my altitude. I tuch the runway bfore I intended to, and bounce up, so I immediately decide to go around. I touch the ground a second time still, but I have decided to go around, so that's what I'll stick to. Looking at the video footage, I think I could have continud the landing without major harm or damage, but at that time and place, one simply does not have the luxury of hindsight. So I first want to get away from the ground, then build up some speed, then reduce flaps. In the video, you clearly see the three phases in sequence. Again, with hindsight, I could have raised the flaps earlier to increase accelleration, but the potential loss of altitude withheld me from doing so.
Baffeled by all this fuzz happening to me, my climb out was far from perfect. Too high speed, not enogh climb rate. Resulting in a climbing turn to crosswind. It wasn't until downwind that I regained full control again. Downwind checks HARS (Hoogte, Afstand, Richting, Snelheid - Dutch for Altitude, Distance (to runway), Direction, Speed), I can hear Piet say it out loud. I was a little high, and a little fast. Distance, and direction were OK. Piet had said earlier that day that, with this much wind, the downwind section of the circuit would be relatively quickly over with (the tailwind component needs to be added to the indicated airspeed, to obtain the groundspeed). That means that relatively agressive throttle work is needed to get this sleak airplane to slow down before end of downwind. So that's exactly what I did: Carb heat on, pull back the throttle to even below the normal descend power setting, and maintain altitude with pitch. That slows the plane down, and as the speed gets correct, keep the pitch the same. Then the plane will start to descend. When almost reaching the desired altitude, slowly throttle up to reduce the descend rate to, ultimately, 0. That worked well! Even before mid-downwind, I was HARS OK, and even had time to scan for incoming traffic. Everything back under control
The final landing was a near-perfect one. Groundwind was near zero, which helps, of course. Bt at circuit altitude, there was still this 15 to 20 knots wind. So while descending, less and less crosswind correction was needed. Windsheer effect was noticeable, and turbulence around trees and buildings was more noticeable, as well as some very local thermals (only under the right wing, on final, e.g.). I ended up nicely lined up, and I managed to stay afloat with a constant pitch up for 3 to 4 seconds before a buttery soft touchdown.
Me happy!!!

This is a milestone in my flight training! The fact that I was allowed to go solo, means that my instructor has faith that I am proficient enough in the basics of flying. As you can read above, that is true, but I also still learn from each landing. That will probably always be so, vecause every landing is different. But the foundation is there, and from here on, I can start building on that to become an overall proficient pilot. :)

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