Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Coffee, & a Good Forecast

It was one of those mornings that requires coffee before the brain will start processing information. A few days recently, we've experienced very mild weather- a welcome and early respite from the mugginess of July. I think that is contributing to my continuing desire to sleep in. I don't have air conditioning where I'm living right now, so I keep a fan going. Last month, morning temperatures were up in the 70's, but all of a sudden we are getting low 60's. There is a critical point there for me, when the temperature drops below the mid 60's, that my body likes to go into hibernation mode while sleeping. I absolutely love that kind of sleep, but it does nothing for my ability to get up in the morning. All this contributed to my driving to the airport, still in a sleepy daze. I only had a few minutes before Joe was to arrive, but I wisely used it to slam down two cups of my preferred caffeinated beverage, which seemed to help.

Joe was ready to go by the time I returned from the FBO. I don't know how much of their coffee I have consumed over the years. But free coffee always tastes the best, so I keep drinking it.

We didn't really do a pre-flight briefing this morning, because we already knew what we had to do. Yesterday was a test, to see if he could get back to it in reasonable fashion. Today, we needed to see some progress. I was curious if my assessment of his difficulties would prove to be the defining key to getting him proficient. Sometimes you have to try several different approaches to find the one that works. I was confident I had him figured out, but only a flight would show the result.

First, I wanted to see a couple landings, and try to get him back to flaring at the right time. The psychological side of flying is more a factor than most people give credit for. I can tell when a student begins to tense up. Most right-handed students will tense the left side of their bodies. That usually ends up causing their left-hand traffic patterns to be flown too tight, as they unconsciously apply left aileron. Joe does a bit of that. He was nice and relaxed today for the most part though, and that proved to be a major help. During landings, the natural human instinct has to be fought. You see yourself approaching the ground at five hundred feet per minute, and want to arrest the fall before hitting.

The normal landing requires getting close to the ground before raising the nose. You don't want to stall ten or twenty feet up. Joe's problems there arose from the reaction of seeing the ground get close, so he would instinctively start raising the nose fifty feet up, fighting it all the way down, until he was forced to use power to soften the touchdown. So todays first task was to get him down within a foot of the ground before letting him get slow. After a couple tries, he reacquired the feel.

Then we headed out of the airport area to try what has always been the most difficult thing for him: simulated instrument flying. I had been ready to let him have an easy flight, just to keep him from getting stressed. But he wanted to charge ahead. He did better than usual. He knew what he needed to do, and did ok with it, except for one thing, which is often the student's biggest issue: the instant he looked away from the instruments to try to dial a radio frequency, he'd start into a soft bank or pitch, and get 20-30 degrees off heading, or 100-200 feet off the assigned altitude.

I could tell he had been armchair flying though. That is perhaps the most under-rated study activity there is. It is when you sit back in your comfy chair at home, in a nice quiet room with no distractions, and close your eyes, pretending to be flying. Going through the motions in that environment leads to a much faster than normal learning curve.

Still, I found it vexing that he kept losing track of the flight instruments. The key to remember is that the plane does not know you can't see outside. It keeps flying. If you have it trimmed properly, you can take your hands off the controls and it still flies. After reminding him of that, he got a little better.

The steep turns were the biggest improvement though. His last few had been absolutely wretched. Bad enough that I was beginning to wonder about him. But today he started flying them amazingly well. He finally got to experience flying through his own wake turbulence, after flying a perfect turn, with no altitude change and no sudden need for adjustments.. That gave him the confidence to continue improving.

Now, I am reassured that we are back on track, and ready to proceed. After these last two flights, he is ready to fly solo again. Then, a few more prep lessons, and he will hopefully get to take his checkride.

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