Thursday, July 21, 2005

Oops, that wasn't the airport I was thinking of.

This morning started off quickly. Since 7:30, it has been nonstop. Not that I'm complaining in the least.

It started with two hours of ground instruction, with Mrs. Complication. We went through the sectional chart, airspace definitions, equipment requirements, VFR requirements, etc. I think I would almost have preferred it if she had simply not studied at all. Instead, she did study. Badly. Slightly more than half of the little bits of data are up there in her head somewhere, but she has no idea which piece of data to retrieve for any specific question. I will hazard a guess that our next ground session- intended to be on aerodynamics and systems- is likely to get interesting in the same manner.

As soon as that travesty of a ground session was complete, my student with the light sport plane was ready to fly. We hadn't decided where to go or what to do. He thought it might be a litle too soon to go back to Tangier already, but asked my opinion on any other on-airport restaurants in reasonable range. Funny, I had just been thinking that a trip to Chesterfield, VA might be in order. They have a nice buffet there, and it is cheap. Six bucks and change.

The flight down was nice and relaxing. I still enjoy the perspective: driving there would take a solid two hours. The flight is about 40 minutes. That plane only has 100 horsepower, making it the least powerful engine I've ever flown. But it does get up and go. We were clocking a solid 125 knots (144 miles per hour) for the ride down.

This student has a tendency to end up too high on final approach, and he did not disappoint. We crossed the threshold, still a solid 300 feet up. I'm glad to see him dealing with it well though. When he recognized the situation, he went right into 40 degrees of flaps, and a solid sideslip. He was ready to abort the landing and try again if needed, but he got down with plenty of room to spare.

The original plan was simply to fly around a little, get some lunch along the way, and get home eventually. From Chesterfield, he was wanting to take the long way home. So we picked a couple airports at random, and headed off. First stop was Halifax County, NC.

After another too-high approach, and successful slip to landing there, we cruised westward across Lake Gaston and Kerr Lake, ending up at Tuck Field. He gave me that landing. On the ensuing takeoff, the plan was to head on back home to Shenandoah, but I asked if he'd like another landing, and after he agreed, I had him make a slight detour up to Farmville, VA. He accomplished that one, perfectly on the proper glidepath.

Then it was time to get back home. Now, one of the great things about that plane, aside from simply being fun, is that it doesn't burn much fuel. At lower cruise settings, you can have it under four gallons per hour. Compare that with a Cessna 172, which flies a little slower, but burns about double that. The low fuel burn allows you to get amazing range from it, before needing to refuel. We flew over four hours, a time that in most small planes would have required a fuel stop. But we were still above half tanks. It has an 8 1/2 hour range.

We stayed low- 2,500 feet, to keep away from the little cumulus clouds building, and expected to need to shoot through Afton Pass near the minimum safe altitude. Outbound, we had caught a couple little clouds at 3,500 feet. On the return, it was a non-issue.

Only after parking the plane, and returning to my office, did I realize that I had never visited Halifax before. I usually keep mental note of where I have been, so I can add new locations when possible. And throughout the flight there, the approach, landing, taxi, and departure, it never occurred to me.

For my student, all four of those airports were new. Each one was a chance to get outside his familiarity zone, and learn something new. So chalk that up as a successful day.

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