Sunday, April 6, 2008

0.6 To Go And Counting

Hello from rainy northern Florida... where we've been socked in for most of the weekend under a low cloud layer with ever present rain and intermittent thunderstorms. Fortunately, it hasn't been as bad as it could have been.

I actually was able to get up in the Gobosh late Saturday morning, skirting under a low, but constant, 2,000' cloud ceiling to perform some of the required maneuvers ahead of my checkride. After landing at Palatka for fuel, I headed back north to practice steep turns, "S" turns and turns about a point -- all maneuvers I've had some difficulty with performing.
Adding further challenges was the wind, which was blowing up to 20 knots on the ground and was equally turbulent between 1,000' and 1,500 above ground level. This was actually a plus, though, as it gave me yet another challenge to work against... and with some practice, I was able to hold the required steep angles and altitude during each maneuver, fighting with the wind at every step.

That took about a half-hour or so... leaving me with a decision to make. To qualify for my checkride, I needed to rack up 2.3 hours more solo time in the Gobosh -- and so far, I'd only done .7 of that. Part of me wanted to land back at Haller right then, as it was rather bumpy at altitude (winds again) and the low cloud deck made me a little nervous (one of my biggest in-flight fears is losing visibility, or reference to the ground)... but given the task at hand, I turned and headed southeast across the St. Johns River, to eat up some more flight time.

That turned out to be a good decision... as the air smoothed out considerably across the river, allowing me to relax a bit, not having to fight the flight controls. I lazed across the sky for another .6 hours, occasionally practicing more steep turns, but generally flying level and snapping more pictures.

By 12:15 pm, the Hobbs meter showed I'd been flying for 1.3 hours... and, truth be known, I was now kind of bored, as I'd accomplished everything I set out to do on my checklist (except for stalls, due to the low clouds that kept me from climbing to the required 3,000 feet AGL.) I was also a little thirsty, so I decided to head back towards Palatka, land, and grab a bottled water.

I was glad I did... as it provided me with two more good lessons. The first one came to be as I was over the treeline, on short final to land on runway 17. I was fighting a stiff headwind, but it was more-or-less straight down the runway so I didn't need much of a crab angle to stay on track. Though my airspeed was pegged at 60 kts, as required, my ground speed was a lot slower. It felt like I was crawling along the ground, fighting my way to the runway.

And then, suddenly, I wasn't. I looked down, and my airspeed had dropped to under 50. Wind shear! I jabbed in the throttle slightly, and recovered the needed knots before the plane began to drop further. I think I caught it about as quick as I could have, but it still didn't seem fast enough; had I not been paying attention, the plane would have possibly come close to stalling, a scenario that has downed a number of aircraft at the absolute worse time -- within about 150 feet of the ground.

Things smoothed out after that. The 20-knot headwind helped me make a fine short-field landing, and I taxied over to the small terminal/FBO on the field. I'd already gassed up once, so I didn't need fuel. After tying a wing down, I walked in, greeted the counterperson on duty, and made a beeline for the Coke machine for a Dasani.

"In from Haller?" the staffer, Dave, asked me. Over the past two weeks, Jim and I have been regular customers, after all.

"Yep, burning off solo time," I replied. "I passed my oral exam Thursday."

We chatted a little more, then Dave asked "have you seen the latest weather?"

I replied in the negative; I hadn't been near a computer or a phone in nearly two hours. I had been keeping an eye on the clouds, of course, and nothing too threatening had popped up.
Dave's eyebrows perked up, and he motioned over to the weather terminal. "Check it out. There's a major cell over Gainesville right now."

I looked. Sure enough, a line of green -- with some ominous fingers of orange -- was forming directly over Gainesville, about 30 miles west of Palatka. It seemed to be moving relatively slowly towards the east; the last echo was recorded 10 minutes before, according to the time stamp on the image.

Decision time. I'd planned to burn off at least another 45 minutes in the air before I returned to base... but the weather forecast altered that plan. Conversely, the weather was still far enough away that I didn't need to wait it out at Palatka; if I took off in the next 10 minutes or so, the 20-minute flight would put me on the ground in plenty of time before the clouds moved in.

Not to mention the winds, already strong, would only get worse throughout the rest of the day.
"I'd better head out," I told Dave. "Better safe than sorry."

He nodded. "Good luck on your checkride!"

Though there wasn't a real reason for me to rush things -- the skies to the west were still clear -- I still worked through the checklist in record time, not missing a single item. There was only one other plane in the pattern at Palatka, practicing crosswind landings; the Gobosh's wheels were off the runway within seven minutes after I started the engine.

It was a bumpy ride back to Haller, from the moment I turned downwind to exit the pattern to the north. And sure enough, the clouds appeared darker to the west once I climbed up to 1,500 feet... but they were well off in the distance, and I was moving at least three times faster than they were. I would have much preferred clear, calm skies... but everything was well within limits, the clouds over my head were at least 1,500 feet above me, and I still had easily 12 miles visibility in the haze.

Still, the winds were on my mind as I entered the pattern at Haller. From downwind, I could see the windsock sticking straight out, favoring landing to the south, as expected. In fact, the wind seemed to be blowing straight down the runway. Poy-fect.

For as much bumping around that was going on as I descended -- wind currents blowing off the trees were causing updrafts -- the approach was very calm, and routine. I'd planned for some burbles over the trees at the end of the runway, and I figured things would calm down after I was below the treeline. Which is exactly how it played out; in fact, it was one of my best landings to date.

The showers started 45 minutes after I landed, about the time I'd expected them to. They haven't let up since; no matter, since the plane is now down south in Punta Gorda, anyway -- Jim flew it home for the weekend -- and I won't see it again until Sun 'N Fun starts Tuesday.

Due to cutting things short for weather, I'm still .6 hours short of the five-hours solo requirement. I'll have to go up and burn off that time at South Lakeland, where the plane will be stationed throughout the show. And then comes the checkride.

If all goes to plan -- and I don't screw up royally, and bust the checkride -- by this time next week, I should be a licensed sport pilot.

Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment