Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day One

(This update isn't very detailed, since it's 12:10 am EDT as I'm writing this after a VERY long day... but I wanted to get at least the first day's activity up. And no pics from the cockpit yet, since all my time in the air is about TRAINING so far.)

Due to strong, gusting winds in northern Florida Monday, I wasn't able to get started on my sport pilot training until Tuesday.

My instructor, Jim, and I took off from Haller (7FL4) at 10:15 am, first heading 15 miles south to Palatka (28J) for fuel. After topping off N702GB, we took off once again, and flew east of the field, on the other side of the St. John's River, for airwork.

Jim led me through a basic refresher course of maneuvering flight: turns-around-a-point, forward-and-side-slips, descending and climbing turns, and pilotage. Like I suspected during my earlier "sim" training, it's tough to miss Palatka -- since two large smokestacks rise over the flat terrain, visible for miles around, and the airport lies southwest of those stacks (the smoke also gives a handy reference for which way the winds are blowing... and for my readers at AG, Lafarge's drywall plant is right next door to the power station.)

After 1.3 hours of pretty intense airwork -- not helped at all by turbulence brought on by the warming of the ground, and residual breezes -- we returned to Palatka, and borrowed the FBO courtesy car to grab lunch.

Since I still had to post afternoon stories on ANN, we decided to return to Haller afterwards. This would be my first-ever soft-field landing, on a grass landing strip... and I was nervous of that, even going so far as to tell Jim I was willing to sit back and watch him do it. My confidence was shaken further the more we were bounced around by the increasingly strong winds, which a few times sent both of us out of our seats a bit, heads hitting the canopy.

Surprisingly, however -- well, to me anyway, if not Jim -- I made an unassisted, spot-on landing at Haller.

After working for four hours, it was time to head back into the air. As we once again headed down to Palatka, Jim showed me how easy it is to trim the airplane to fly at 60 knots -- on the edge of "slow flight," flaps up. This helped in the landing pattern at Palatka... where traffic had cleared out appreciably from the rather crowded state it was in earlier. 28J is VERY popular with student pilots, flying from Embry-Riddle in Daytona Beach, or the CAPT program. 
However, at this hour -- 6 pm -- we were the only plane in the pattern for a significant part of the time.

Here's the short version of what followed: I still need work on my landing technique. It's where I show the most "rust." While I did make some passable landings, and two rather decent ones, other times I was skidding across the runway.

Part of that is still learning the particular quirks of the Gobosh (for one, its nose sits higher off the ground than the SportStar did, so the sightlines for flaring are different; for another, the darn thing has a free-castering nosewheel, no direct steering) part of that was the crosswind, and part of that was rust.

Jim showed me a technique that helped a little -- "fast-taxiing," in which you push enough power in to raise the nosewheel off the ground, but not the mains, then bring it back and hold the nose off the ground as long as possible. The goal is to give you an idea of the ideal sightlines for when you flare on landing.

By the end of the lesson at 7:15, I WAS making progress... and I capped it off with another nice landing back at Haller.

Total time in the air today: 3.9 hours. And there's more in store for tomorrow: steep turns, stalls, more landing work, and a trip over to the Class D (towered) airspace at St. Augustine (SGJ.)

I'm loving every minute of it.

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