Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Return To Flight

Today I took my first lesson to become a sport pilot, at Grand Prairie Municipal.

First off, the flight wasn't as much a lesson, as it was a checkride. With 70 hours in the logbook already (that surprised me when I added it up last night... the results of stopping and starting lessons) I've completed all the requirements as defined under the two-year-old FAA sport pilot rules. All that time was in Cessna 172s, and I was wondering how different it would feel to transition into a much smaller airplane.

Which the Evektor SportStar certainly is. Here are just some of the differences:
  • Engine --SS: 100-hp Rotax 912 (Skyhawk: 180-hp Lycoming O-320)
  • Maximum Gross Weight -- SS: 1320 lbs (Skyhawk: 2550 lbs)
  • Seats -- SS: 2 (Skyhawk: 4)
  • Top Speed, level flight -- SS: 115 knots indicated airspeed (Skyhawk: 130 KIAS... not much difference)
  • Cruise Speed, level flight -- SS: 80 KIAS, on a good day (Skyhawk: 110 KIAS)
Funny thing was... except for the difference in wing location, and the sensation of rotating for takeoff somewhere around 35 knots (compared to 60 in the 172) the flight was surprisingly routine. I became familiar with the flying characteristics pretty quickly: right downwind departure at 1,500 feet, check; climbing right turn to 270 at 2,500 feet, check; descent to 2,000, no problem. The Sport is MUCH more responsive than the Skyhawk is -- it was a pretty calm day, though I can imagine how this plane could be tossed around a bit in the wind (the result of the lower weight, and as a result, lower wing loading) -- but it also goes EXACTLY where you point it, no muss, no fuss.

We flew for exactly an hour. My instructor, Jay, saw pretty quickly that I was competent enough at the controls (hello, 70 hours???) to progress further down the checklist. "Wanna do stalls?" 

Uh, sure.

I've done lots of stalls before in the Skyhawk -- both with the instructor, and solo -- and I've hated them every time. Maybe it was my exuberance, or maybe I've learned more than I thought... but stalls in the Sport were no problem. We did power-off stalls first, and then the power-on (to simulate the effects of a stall on takeoff.)

The Sport I flew today doesn't have a stall warning horn, like the Skyhawk does (the Sport I flew in Sebring also had a horn)... but wow, does this plane communicate with you. Without getting too technical, you can feel the tail "buffet" long before the plane starts to lose altitude... five seconds, easily. Though the plane has a tendency to dip a wing when it does stall (which puts you in a condition to possibly enter a spin if you're not careful... spins are bad) the plane still flies a long time before that happens.

"Well done!" Jay told me after my second power-on stall. "Those were certainly satisfactory. I'd like to see you get deeper into the stall in the future, but you'd pass the checkride with those."
About a half-hour after takeoff, we headed back to Grand Prairie (an advantage to a slower plane for training? You accomplish more in the same time than in a speedier bird.) The flight back was totally routine, and Jay complimented me on how quickly I took to the Sport.
To me, it felt like I'd never left the air.

Landing was also surprisingly routine to me. We flew a straight-in approach to runway 35... and I flew the approach and landed with no problem. That also surprised me... landings aren't my forte, but again, this plane just seemed to make them easier.

"Great job!" Jay told me. "Yeah, it won't take long to get you signed off." The only time Jay touched the controls for the entire flight was to demonstrate the first stalls to me.

One year ago today, I was diagnosed with TC.

Today, I returned to the skies... and felt very welcomed by them. My next lesson is Tuesday.

Happy New Year

You may think that sentiment is 24 days overdue... but it's not to me. One year ago today, at around 8:30 am... I was diagnosed with TC.

I'm not going to dwell on that, though. (Or at least, I'll try not to.) Instead, I'm going to focus on flying -- as I take my first lesson towards earning my sport pilot license, down in Grand Prairie at 9:30 am.

"Poetic symmetry" is how a coworker of mine described it. I couldn't agree more...