Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Crosswinds tick!

Some absolutely awesome flying was had yesterday morning. At 6AM the windsock was showing a strong crosswind from the south, so I took off with Lee in BUQ, the other Cessna 152, for a session of crosswind circuits. This was pretty much the same drill as last time, using runway 07 with a strong crosswind from the right, just with no rain.

In the pre-flight briefing we had decided to use only 20 degrees of flaps and aim for 75 knots on base and 70 on final. Crosswind landings require a lot of rudder and aileron work, and these 5 extra knots make a real difference when the moment comes to swing the nose of the plane back onto the centreline and keep it there while flaring.

The other advantage of an increased airspeed is in reducing the angle of attack required for creating a given amount of lift, which increases the margin between our angle of attack at any given moment and the angle of attack at which stall happens. This is particularly important in turbulent and gusty conditions, such as this morning, since a sudden change in airflow direction could stall one wing, or both, which is a sure recipe for disaster at a few hundred feet above the ground.

On the base leg I applied myself to maintaining 75 knots and controlling our rate of descent so as to end up between 600 and 700ft when turning final. The reason behind that is to ensure that we are established on final not below 500ft. This is not an actual regulation, but more of a best practice to make sure we have enough time to get ourselves sorted out on final.

This is not really hard in fact, just a matter of concentrating and maintaining the proper scan between the runway, the ASI and the altimeter. One reason why you want to really stick to the airspeed of 75 knots in the Cessna 152 is that Vfe is 85 knots. It only takes a gust of headwind and a couple of seconds of inattention for the airspeed to reach the end of the white arc.

My landings this time were a lot better than the time before. I was careful to really fly the plane all the way down. I only flared too high on one occasion today, which is a definite improvement over last time too. Lee suggested that I removed the crab as I crossed the fence, i.e. way earlier than in my previous session. This worked wonders.

Doing so gave me enough time to transition properly to the wing-down technique after removing the crab and make sure I was tracking along the centreline before starting to flare. After flaring I forced myself to give the plane enough time to float above the runway and decide itself when to touch the ground. This was no problem since I could control track and heading with rudder and aileron. On a couple of occasions I could even distinctly hear the upwind main wheel touch the ground before the other one (and before the nose wheel), which is very rewarding.

In total I did five good landings, and as a result Lee gave me a tick for crosswinds. This means I can now go solo to the training area over Bribie Island. Actually, I already went solo there about a month ago, but that was early in the morning on a day with no wind, either actual or forecasted. I still need to complete about two hours of solo airwork before being able to attempt the GFPT test, which is still scheduled for February 29th.

During one circuit this morning a Cessna Caravan called inbound from above Brisbane International control tower as we were turning onto the crosswind leg. Lee called him and proposed to extend our downwind leg to let him land first, which the pilot of the Caravan gladly accepted. On late downwind the Caravan called a short base turn. I looked over my left shoulder and could see the Caravan in a tight descending turn that clearly indicated there weren’t any passengers on board. This was a Caravan from Seair Pacific, a Queensland charter operator based on the Gold Coast. A few minutes later it made a departure call for Lady Elliot Island, which is about 50 nautical miles north-east of Bundaberg, in the top right corner of the Brisbane WAC chart.

Tomorrow morning, weather permitting, we’ll go to the training area to practice compass turns. This is again a 6AM-8AM booking, which means getting up at sparrow’s fart for the second day in a row. But flying in the early morning has this way of putting a smile on my face for the rest of the day, so I really cannot complain.

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