Sunday, January 6, 2008

Clouds, rain and demanding crosswind landings

I went flying on Friday. Sort of. At lunchtime the reported wind in Redcliffe was 15 knots with a crosswind component of about 12 knots, much better than the days before. Still quite close to the 15 knots crosswind limitation of the 152 though, but the wind was expected to fall in the afternoon, so there was a glimmer of hope that I would go flying.

I called the club and Scott, one of the new instructors, said that if I wanted to come over we could go do some crosswind circuits. That sounded like a plan, so I grabbed my flight bag and drove to Redcliffe. Soon after I hit the Bruce Highway the rain grew very strong. I spotted a car in the ditch at the Redcliffe exit ramp which looked like it had spun out of control after taking the turn too fast.

It was a full house at the club since no-one was flying. Lots of new faces on the other side of the counter too since the club hired quite a few new instructors recently. I said hi, grabbed the folder for VH-IVW and went to pre-flight the plane under light rain. Everything was in order with full tanks, so I went back inside to fill in the sign-out sheet and soon Scott and I made our way to the plane.

Right after leaving our parking spot I tested my brakes and the left main wheel skidded on the wet tarmac. We taxied for runway 25 and couldn’t hear anyone on the CTAF frequency at all, even though it is shared between the aerodromes of Redcliffe, Caboolture and Caloundra.

Soon after take-off it became clear that we were heading straight into one of the numerous dark fractostratus clouds that were hanging around the aerodrome. Scott said we’ll be doing 500ft circuits today instead of the normal 1000ft so as to stay clear of clouds. That sounded like a very sensible idea. Scott said he had been to Maroochydore in the morning and at some point the cloud base was as low as 400ft.

On the first circuit my downwind leg was a bit too far, I doubt I could have glided back to the runway in case of engine failure. The crosswind final was OK, I had no problem maintain my track along the extended runway centreline. I had a bit of trouble removing the crab and lining up the plane with the runway on short final though, so Scott jumped in and gave me a hand with the flare and rudder work.

On the second circuit my spacing was better. On downwind I was flying parallel to the runway and in the direction of the marina at the tip of the Redcliffe peninsula. I tried to maintain exactly 65 knots on final which helped with the landing flare but I didn’t put enough right rudder in, so here again Scott had to jump in. As soon as the nose of the plane was pointing down the runway again, Scott handed the controls back to me. Heels on the ground, flaps to 10, ailerons into the wind, full power and soon we were airborne again for our third circuit.

The rain grew a lot stronger on the crosswind leg, and by the time I turned downwind it was pounding the poor 152. The rain was coming in from the sea and reduced our visibility to the point that I could only see the tip of the peninsula as a darker shade of gray through the rain. As we passed abeam the threshold of runway 25 Scott decided to take over the controls and perform a full stop landing. The cool thing is that I could witness a textbook crosswind landing. During the flare Scott kept the height of the plane constant with lots of small pitch adjustments. We touched on the upwind wheel first, then the other main wheel, then the nose wheel. Just like it says in the book :-)

All in all that was only .4 of an hour spent in the air but I don’t regret going. That was my first time flying in such poor meteorological conditions. I started my training last March, at the end of the Australian summer, so I’ve had mostly very pleasant conditions so far. Only once last year did I have to cancel a lesson because of the weather.

I spent the next half-hour at the club booking lessons for the next month and a bit. I had to reschedule my GFPT pre-test and actual test because the weather won’t allow me to finish all the flying before the end of January as originally planned. The test is now scheduled for February 29th, which hopefully will give me ample time to prepare.

I realised that I still need to do a lot of work on crosswind landings. Parts of my problem today was due to the fact that I removed the crab too late, which meant I had to do too many things at the same time: straighten the nose with rudder, roll the wings into the wind while at the same time keeping an eye on the airspeed, controlling the flare and checking for drift.

What I’ll do next time is remove the crab a lot earlier, say when I pass 200ft and remove carby heat, so that hopefully I will have the longitudinal axis of the plane nicely aligned with the runway centreline and drift countered with aileron by the time I start the flare.

I have a lesson booked for next week Thursday. If the weather ends up as forecasted it’ll be a crosswind lesson again. My objective is to fly well enough so that the instructor will not have to take over at any stage. Let's see how we do on this one.

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