Flight 6: Traffic pattern work and power curve mistakes (4/19/14)

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

Today was a day of relatively high crosswinds which made things challenging.

We practiced slow flight and some power on/off stalls.  My stalls were “up to PTS” (Practical Test Standards) according to Tom, but my slow flight was pretty terrible–for some reason I thought that I had to hold power at 1900 during slow flight, and didn’t realize that I’d have to add power as I got closer to slower speeds in order to maintain altitude.  I was dropping altitude even though I had nailed the airspeed, and was perplexed as to why.  Even though I’ve read about the power curve, I failed to recognize it applied here and that’s what caused my issue.  Tom said to maintain slow flight without descending, you’ll probably end up with the engine at around 2250 RPM.

After that we did some more steep turns, and they too were in my opinion sub-par–although we ended up at the altitude we started at, we lost about 150 feet throughout the turn before ascending again.  It’s likely just a factor of practicing them, and for now it’s definitely something I could use some work on.

Then we turned towards Orange County (MGJ) and did a few touch-and-gos in the pattern for Runway 3.  There was a significant crosswind on this runway.  I think we had one go-around, and then 3 or 4 landings.  My first landing I rolled out too far before taking off again and we had to do a full-stop.  During the other landings I was getting blown around a little bit.

One mistake that I made was not fully putting up the flaps before taking off on the touch-and-go landing.  I need to fully retract flaps and visually verify that they are up before adding full power and removing carb heat.  I was rushing the process (with my experience I don’t have a good gauge of how much runway room I have) to ensure I could get back into the air with runway room to spare.

The biggest problem I had during these landings was not adjusting the power adequately after adding flaps.  Sometimes I would find myself at 1300-1500 RPM after adding full flaps, having never adjusted the power after each increment of flaps.  Again, this is a mistake related to not understanding the application of the power curve.  When noticing I was sinking too quickly, I’d add power but also pull back a little too much on the yoke and come in too slowly (and thus have little margin between my airspeed and the stall speed).

Tom’s main advice was to pitch for airspeed (aim for an approach speed around 75-80 MPH or 65-70 knots) and use throttle to control altitude.  If I was going to undershoot the runway, add power; if overshooting, reduce power.  Through either of these scenarios, pitch the nose to keep airspeed at approach speed (65 knots).  Today, even though I added power when I noticed we were descending too quickly, I primarily tried to extend the glide by pulling back on the nose–which is dangerous!  Despite learning about power off stalls and how critical it is to avoid them at low altitudes, it’s natural to want to extend the glide to the runway on final by pulling back on the yoke.  I was making this undeniably dangerous mistake, and now I know more concretely what I need to do to correct it.  In a sense, it’s good that I’ve made this mistake during training because now I know: I want to avoid managing altitude via the elevators during landing; that I have a greater tendency to make this mistake than I may realize; and how to correct that tendency–by changing how I mentally approach airspeed and altitude management during the landing procedure.  Again–it comes back to being behind the power curve.

Afterwards, Tom and I debriefed.  I knew my flying that day was sub-par, and Tom noted that it was a challenging day with the winds and that–while nothing I did was explicitly dangerous–I was flying in a manner that left very little margin for error.  I think this was his way of saying he got a little nervous at times without trying to dishearten me, but after making mistakes that border on dangerous I am able to take the criticism.  I believe safety is the most important aspect of being a pilot, and I put the ego aside and take any safety-related feedback very seriously.

It was a long and exhausting day of flying.  To end the day on a comical note, Tom mentioned that maybe the reason I’m struggling a bit is because I can’t fully reach the rudder pedals and thus can’t deflect the rudder to its limits.  After he said that, I thought about it and it might indeed be the case–while taxiing I have to rely on braking a lot more than I’ve always thought I should because I couldn’t fully deflect the rudders during a turn.  I’d always have to stretch out under my seatbelt to try to squeeze a little more rudder.  He mentioned that I should try using a “cushion” next time to put me more forward in the seat–and I’ll be bringing a pillow to the next flight to see if that’ll help!

One final note: AOPA is a fantastic organization with huge amounts of quality information.  Become a member if you haven’t already–there’s even a discount for student members and it will save you $10 on your written test fee!

Further Reading:
Behind the Power Curve (includes a great analogy of the power curve to other areas of life)
AOPA: Slow Down

Logbook Entry N5253R (C172)

Flight Details

Traffic pattern/landings at MGJ