METAR KSET 061454Z AUTO 30014G20KT 10SM OVC027 00/M05 A3023 RMK AO2 SLP237 60001 T00001050 51030=
I start watching the weather forecast a few days before a flight, hoping for calm winds and clear skies. That was not going to be the case for this flight. It would become one of my most exciting and memorable flights so far.
I got up at 7am for early flight, checked the weather and saw that the high winds forecasted for the last few days had not changed. Suddenly I was nervous again about going up. Thankfully, the night before, I head read up on crosswind takeoffs and landings.
After arriving at the airport and before heading out to the plane I reviewed the crosswind takeoff technique with my instructor: full aileron into the wind before the takeoff roll starts and less as the ailerons become effective, using the appropriate amount of rudder as usual. Once off the ground, let the plane crab into the wind. Sounds easy enough but I had no idea how much aileron would be needed as we left the ground, I didn’t want to slam a wing into the ground. During preflighting we tuned to the WX frequency and heard the report “Winds 310 at 16, peak gusts 24” (18 mph and 27 mph). We headed out to runway 27 and, with my instructor on the controls with me, performed a nice, clean takeoff. No drama, no discomfort. I had, once again, gotten myself worked up for nothing. We climbed quickly with the 16 knot headwind and 180hp engine in the freezing winter air.
The turbulence was kicking us around a bit on the way to the practice area, the wind gusting from the west as we flew north. I did my best to not fight it and relax on the controls, let the plane take the bumps instead of constantly overcorrecting. As we climbed up to 2000 feet we started entering the edges of the clouds, surrounding us with haze that was just starting to dissipate. There were patches of clear sky opening up and shafts of bright sunlight shining through, saturating the surrounding clouds with a beautiful, glowing white light. Flying around in the edge of the clouds made it feel like I had a little patch of the world to myself.
After practicing a power-off stall we turned back towards the airport for some crosswind landings. A quick check of the WX frequency reported the wind coming from a more northerly direction so we’d be using runway 36 for the landings. Flying in strong winds a week after practicing ground reference maneuvers was a perfect way to reinforce what I had learned. The stronger winds really helped to illustrate crabbing against the wind, especially on final. The first two crosswind landings felt a little sloppy but the third and final landing of the day felt much better. I would have been happy to practice a few more landings but, sadly, the hour was up.
With each flying lesson I get more comfortable with a certain aspect of aviation. Before this flight, my biggest remaining area of concern was high winds and turbulence. With this lesson, that fear has turned into respect and anticipation. Crosswind takeoffs and landings require careful coordination and attention but they also expose some of the more interesting and exciting skills required for flying. Hopefully, in future lessons, I’ll be much more relaxed when it comes to unfamiliar situations.
It had been four weeks since my last flight, I was looking forward to going back up to work on my next lesson: Ground Reference Maneuvers. Before the flight my instructor discussed the plan. We’d do a review of previous skills and then three ground reference maneuvers: rectangular course, turns around a point and s-turns.
Ground reference maneuvers are a handful of different turns at a relatively low altitude that involve learning to fly more precisely relative to the wind. Driving a car in a circle is simple enough, you turn the wheel into the direction of the circle and keep it there, going slow enough to prevent the tires from losing traction. Now imagine you’re driving on ice with a strong wind, you have to compensate for the wind pushing you across the ice, making parts of the turn sharper than others. Flying in a circle is similar but also requires you to maintain altitude as well as keeping an eye out for other planes.
First up was “turns around a point” or, more simply, flying in a circle around a point on the ground. The goal is to fly a clean circle and keep the same track around the point for each turn. During my last flight in San Francisco I circled Candlestick Park a few times until ATC cleared us to continue our flight. When I was making those turns I wasn’t taking the wind into consideration and drifted away from the park. I did better on this most recent flight with my instructor helping me through each part of the turn.
Next up was s-turns where the goal is to fly equally sized half circles along both sides of a straight road. The first turn into the maneuver wasn’t very clean as I wasn’t immediately sure which road my instructor wanted me to follow. The subsequent turns were better and I’m sure they’ll improve in the next flights. We headed back to the airport to do rectangular course, basically just flying the pattern a few times. Towards the end of the last few turns I started to get a better feel for the wind affecting the plane. I’m looking forward to practicing more of these turns, they definitely help get a better feel for maneuvering a plane. They’re also kinda fun, you get to really “fly” the plane, exercising all the controls, instruments and looking around constantly.
I recorded this flight using the CloudAhoy app on my iPad and an external Garmin GLO Bluetooth GPS sitting on the dash of the plane. CloudAhoy records the flight path and profile including location, speed and altitude and uploads to their servers for analysis after the flight. Being able to review the specifics of takeoffs, turns and landings after the lesson is great, it showed me exactly how well I performed each maneuver.
I hope to increase the frequency of my flights, up from twice a month to at least three times a month. The longer the wait between flights the more you have to relearn the skills from the previous lessons. My goal is to get my license in as little time and cost as possible.
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