Flight 3: Radio comms, slow flight and stalls (4/12/13)

Note: I’ve moved my blog!  You can find this post here.

After a series of 3 canceled lessons due to rain and TFRs, I was finally able to get to my third flight.  It was a beautiful day with almost no clouds.

After meeting up with Tomoharu (I’ll call him Tom, not to be confused with Tom Fischer), we went out and preflighted the plane.  Sunday we were going to fly in N811JD and Tom accidentally thought we were flying in that plane, so we ended up doing a preflight of the wrong plane!  After figuring this out, we went and got the keys for our trusty N5253R and I did the preflight for that plane too.  Not so bad, I got a bunch of preflight practice that day!

After starting the engine, getting the weather from ATIS, and setting our instruments, it was time to call Caldwell Ground to request taxi clearance.  Tom asked me, “how comfortable are you with talking on the radio?”  My first radio exchange went something like this (imagine an air of nervousness in my voice):

Me: “Caldwell Ground, Cessna 5253R is at Fischer Aviation with information sierra, requesting VFR departure to the north”
Caldwell Ground: “5253R, taxi to runway 28 via taxiway alpha november”
Me: “Runway 28 via taxiway alpha november for 5253R”

When making a radio call, you should use the format “who, you, where, what.”  When looking at the above transmission:

  • Who you are calling (Caldwell Ground)
  • You (Cessna 5253R — you usually include your plane type before your call sign)
  • Where you are (Fischer Aviation).  You also let the controller know which weather information you have by appending your location with “with information _____”.  In the above exchange, I had weather “information sierra” from the ATIS.
  • What you want (VFR departure to the north)

In response to your initial transmission, the ground controller will usually give you taxi instructions to the runway.  In the above dialogue, the ground controller told me I would be taxiing to runway 28 via taxiway A and then turning onto N.  After you hear the instructions you’re supposed to repeat the pertinent information.  In the above case, the controller needed me to read back the runway and taxiways.

After taxiing and doing our run-up and things looked good, we pulled up to the hold short line for runway 28 and called Caldwell Tower.

Me: “Caldwell Tower, 5253R is holding short of runway 28, ready for takeoff.”

Usually after this, the tower will tell you to continue holding short or clear you for takeoff.  Again, you need to repeat the pertinent instructions from the controller.  I don’t remember exactly how it was worded, but in this case the controller cleared us for takeoff, so I had to repeat that.

Me: “Cleared for takeoff, 5253R.”

After that, we pulled onto the runway and took off.  I didn’t add right rudder after takeoff and we veered to the left a bit, so that was something I’d have to make sure I controlled on the next takeoff.

We went out to the practice area and we reviewed slow flight once more, and then I learned power on and power off stalls.  Power off stalls (stalling with the engine at idle, hence “power off”) are for simulating a stall on landing.  Usually this will happen because you’re going to end up short of the runway and you pull back on the yoke to try to stretch your glide.  By doing this you exceed the critical angle of attack and stall.  The correct response to stalling in a power off scenario is to apply full throttle, remove carburetor heat, immediately retract the first notch of flaps, and fly straight-and-level to pick up airspeed.  At that point, you’re in the same situation as a recovery from slow flight, and you can then climb back to pattern altitude to execute a go-around.  Ideally you want to lose no less than 100 feet of altitude during the stall recovery, since in this scenario you’re landing so you would be close to the ground.  Additionally, it’s important to manage adverse yaw to ensure that one wing doesn’t stall before the other and you end up going into a spin.  Power off stalls and slow flight are critical elements that one must master to be a great pilot–if anything wrong happens close to the ground, you need to recover as quickly as possible.  It’s practice time that must be taken absolutely seriously.

After that, we learned power on stalls, which simulate a stall on takeoff.  Even though you’re at full power on takeoff, you can still stall!  It’s incredibly hard in a Cessna 172 to stall with full power–to the point that it seems like one would implicitly know they are about to stall the plane simply by how much you need to pull back on the yoke.  Like with power on stalls, it’s important to manage adverse yaw and you’ll see quite a bit of it in power on stalls because you’re flying slowly but with high RPM.  When the nose drops, simply bring the nose back up to the horizon and fly straight-and-level while you pick up airspeed, and once at a suitable airspeed you can continue your climb.

Then we went through the checklist/procedure for emergency landing–if your engine quits, what to do.  Like seemingly everything in aviation, there is a checklist: ABCDEFGH.  Easy enough to remember the acronym.  It means:

  • Air speed.  Set the plane to the best glide speed to get the most horizontal distance for your altitude.
  • Best landing spot.  Seek out the best place to land within your available gliding distance.
  • Checklist for engine failure.  This includes ensuring the mixture is full lean, carb heat is on, throttle is not set to idle, cycle magnetos, and try to restart the engine.
  • Declare.  Tell ATC you have a problem and squawk 7700.
  • Egress.  Open the door and prop something in between so it can’t get jammed shut if you crash and leave you stuck inside.
  • Flaps.  Lower the flaps to slow you down once a landing is guaranteed.
  • Gas.  Ensure that fuel is set to OFF to minimize the chance of fires in the event of a bad landing.
  • Have a drink (optional).  If you can walk away from the landing, have a drink and reflect.

The first two things are absolutely critical to take care of right away to allow the best chance for locating/gliding to a suitable area to land.

After a lengthy lesson in the air we were ready to head back.  Tom took care of the radio communication related to landing and we got into the pattern.  It was somewhat windy and I made a fairly poor turn to final and didn’t do so great holding the runway centerline.

After touching down on the runway, we got into a situation where I didn’t hold left rudder and we came about two car widths from veering off the runway.  Fortunately Tom helped out with that–and he mentioned afterwards that I need to be more assertive and not afraid to fly the airplane.   This was fair feedback and something to focus on for the next lesson.

Logbook Entry N5253R (C172)

Flight Details

Radio comms, slow flight and stalls