Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Still not much going on. The biggest news was yesterday, which was both my Grammie's (Mom's side) 84th birthday, and the one-year anniversary of my paternal Grandpa's passing. So, it was a mixed day, emotions-wise.

I was supposed to fly yesterday, too, but the winds whipping around DFW put a stop to that. A call to the field AWOS at Grand Prairie Municipal at 9 am said winds were blowing from 30 degrees off the runway, at a blustery 18 knots. What's more, the forecast called for them to pick up a lot in the coming hours. So I called Aviator, and begged off.

"Yeah, I was up at 6:30 this morning," Jay, my instructor, told me. "The winds were right down the centerline at nine, but at 2,000 feet they sheared to 200 at 52 knots. Our groundspeed was 30 knots heading south." For those who aren't aeronautically-minded... that's a huge jump. I can imagine the feeling in the cockpit as the light-as-a-feather SportStar hit that wind shear.

I already have some experience with winds in the Sport, albeit not to that extreme. My last lesson, the afternoon after I caught an early morning flight back from Albuquerque (we'll call that "Mistake Number One") while I wasn't feeling 100 percent up to snuff ("Mistake Number Two") was in winds blowing more-or-less straight down the runway, at around 20 knots. That's kinda high for a Cessna... never mind a light sport plane ("Mistake Number Three").

If you've ever seen "American Beauty"... you know that blowing-bag scene? "Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, it overwhelms me" and all that claptrap? Well, that was us in the SportStar that day, without the accompanying angst-ridden narration. The takeoff went OK, until a powerful gust blew our right wing down at around 200 feet above the runway.

"SHEESH!" I exclaimed as I leveled the wings... before I realized my finger had grasped the push-to-talk switch while doing so. That meant my exclamation was broadcast to the tower, and whomever else was on frequency. Oddly, no one responded.

I've done strong winds before. You encounter a lot of updrafts flying over New Mexico in summer, as rising air comes off the high plains and hits the mountains. One of my first lessons was a dual-cross-country flight from Silver City, NM to Albuquerque, which required us to fly over the Pinos Altos mountains at 12,500 feet. We were doing OK, until we hit the leeward side.

Then.... weeee! Our altitude varied from 13,700 to 11,900... and I learned sometimes, no matter what you do, you're at the mercy of the wind.

That was in a 2,400-lbs Cessna 172 (ah, N12341... what a glorious piece of crap that plane was). While the 1,315-lbs SportStar has a smaller wing than the Skyhawk does, it has greater wing area relative to the fuselage... that means the plane's weight is spread out over a wider area, and each square foot of wing area supports less weight. It's called "wing loading." The lower the wing loading, the more responsive the plane is through the controls, especially in a banking turn. That also means the plane is more easily unsettled in rough air.

Jay and I spent just over 30 minutes in the air that day. We practiced steep turns and emergency procedures -- what to do if the engine fails, that sort of thing. I fought the plane through the entire flight... and more importantly, I was not enjoying it, which is a big deal for me when flying. Jay could sense it (maybe it was my repeated admonishments of "in the future, I wouldn't fly on a day like today") and we headed back early.

When we got back to the airport, the wind had become a crosswind. Feeling slightly nauseous (I've never gotten sick on a plane, big or small) I begged off and asked Jay to handle the landing. We could practice crosswind landings another day.

Next lesson is scheduled for Friday. Hopefully the winds settle down.

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