R.B. Aviation

FEbruary 29, 2016 -- High wind operations & recovery from unusual attitudes

     The purposes of this flight included developing recognition and recovery experience from unusual attitudes; practicing high and cross-wind takeoffs and landings; and making aeronautical go/no go decisions.  This lesson began, as all of ours thus far have, with a pre-flight briefing on current conditions, maneuvers to be performed in flight, and “Boldface” (emergency) procedures.   I went out to perform a pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, which included checking the fuel and oil levels, as well as brakes, flight controls, and the aircraft’s electrical systems. The oleo strut on the nosewheel was slightly low; the instructor informed me that refilling it did not constitute preventative maintenance and thus required an A&P mechanic for correction. I was also told that the airplane’s flaps should not be left down in high winds, as it was parked on the ramp and not tied down. I raised the flaps, removed the chocks, and boarded the aircraft.

     Cockpit organization is especially important in small general aviation airplanes, so I placed my flight bag behind the instructor’s seat and used a kneeboard for securing the checklist before starting the engine. The procedure is to open the window and yell “Clear prop!” before turning on the master switch, pushing the mixture to full rich, and cranking the starter.  4202Q’s throttle must be pumped back and forth for its engine to start and brought back to idle as the start-engine checklist is completed. After starting the engine, I observed the engine instruments (oil pressure, oil temperature, manifold pressure, and RPMS) for indications of problems, and then checked the left and right magnetos and the carb heat for appropriate drops in RPMS.

     As I began to taxi the aircraft to runway 24, the instructor reminded me to use down elevator and left aileron to keep the airplane on the ground against the wind.  I transmitted “Russellville traffic, Cessna Skyhawk taxiing to runway 24, Russellville traffic” on 122.7 mHz as we rolled, and it became necessary to brake as the airplane neared the end of the taxiway. I performed the runup at about 2100 RPMS, raising the remaining flaps, closing the window, and taxing onto the runway while calling “Russellville traffic, Cessna Skyhawk departing runway 24, Russellville Traffic”. Takeoff was a bit challenging, though it certainly did not take much runway.

    With the temperature warm at around 18 degrees Celsius, clouds scarce, and visibility at 10 statute miles, the weather was very good for this flight – except for wind, which was steady at about 20 knots and gusting to 28 at a heading of 220. This vector is 20 degrees from runway heading, and resulted in a considerable crosswind on takeoff, necessitating a crab angle upon climb.

     After takeoff, I climbed to 1700 ft MSL and began a right turn towards town and the practice area. Because the wind was so strong, we had to keep the airplane a fair distance upwind of the airport to insure that we could return to it in a timely manner. I continued climbing to 3500 ft MSL, at which point the instructor had me practice a few level-altitude turns.  I suggested that I attempt to fly a chandelle in 4202Q

    Before performing any aerobatics or training maneuvers, a pilot must first ensure that the airspace surrounding the aircraft is empty of unsuspecting traffic. This is done through the use of clearing turns, as the pilot scans for aircraft during a gentle 360 left turn, perhaps raising the left wingtip occasionally to see behind it. Once we had verified that the airplane was in an uncongested area and at a sufficient altitude, we prepared the airplane for maneuvering, which primarily consisted of restraining loose items in the cockpit and trimming the airplane for cruise flight. The instructor demonstrated how to pick out reference points on the ground at 45 degrees, 90 degrees, and 135 degrees through the turn.  I applied maximum available power from cruise, pitching upwards at approximately three times the rate as I turned left.  Procedures specify that the airplane should be at maximum bank (about 30 degrees) and pitched for Vx as it turns past 45 degrees, reaching maximum pitch at 90 degrees, before the pilot begins to level the wings and slow down to minimum controllable airspeed.  My first chandelle was rather messy, as I didn’t pitch quite enough and began leveling the wings too soon, leading to an incomplete maneuver. The instructor demonstrated the correct procedure in a turn to the right, and I tried again with more success, gaining about 500 ft of altitude.

     As we performed these climbing turns, we worked our way up to about 4500 ft MSL, which is a safe altitude for spins. The purpose of this practice was to memorize how to quickly recover from accidental spins, such as those resulting from excessive bank angles or skids upon approach to landing. Because we had just performed climbing turns and were monitoring the local CTAF frequency, it was not necessary to perform a clearing turn. I began the maneuver by pulling back on the yoke and then retarding the throttle, pitching the airplane skyward and slowing it down until the stall began to break; at this point, I applied full left rudder and allowed the nose to drop sideways. I initiated recovery almost immediately, applying full right rudder, holding the ailerons neutral, and pulling out of the ensuing dive, before applying full power  and beginning a climb as the airspeed returned to life. This recovery attempt may have been too soon; recovery from a half or full turn spin is typically easier than that from a quarter rotation, as the airplane has not yet stabilized into a spiral flight path. Because the Cessna 172 is a relatively docile trainer, kicking the rudder aggressively can cause a secondary spin in the other direction.

     Next, I was to practice recovery from unusual attitudes. The instructor directed me to close my eyes, fly the basic turns, climbs, and descents that I was told to, then open my eyes when told to “Recover!” The fact that the sun was bright enough to observe through closed eyelids helped somewhat, but I still put the airplane into spirals. Recovery was simple: roll the wings level first, then bring the throttle back and pull the airplane out of the dive, keeping the airspeed within well below VNE This practice was an important reminder that, in order to fly an airplane, you need to see where it is going,

    While I flew these maneuvers, we worked our way to a position over Russellville High School, at which point I turned us towards the airfield. This time, I was able to pick it out quickly and lock on to it. I pulled power back to about 1900 RPMS with carb heat, began a descent, and started to crab towards the crosswind leg, calling “Russellville traffic, Cessna Skyhawk overflying the field for a 45 degree downwind pattern entry for runway 24, Russellville traffic” on UNICOM.  I applied cruise power and leveled out at pattern altitude, while the instructor and I noticed that, as I made the downwind turn, the airplane was traveling very fast. After calling downwind on the radio, I reduced power to 2000 RPMs abeam the middle of the runway, being sure to transition to the left base leg early and with extra power. This homing turn gave the impression of “drifting”, as low-level wind shear became apparent and the airplane began to bounce around. In unstable conditions like these, an less consistent final leg is needed, as the airplane’s attitude and airspeed must be continually adjusted for upsets caused by gusts, updrafts, and crosswinds; my approach was too mechanical for the conditions, and the instructor had to help get the airplane on the ground  by making greater corrections.

     After bringing power to idle and touching down, I held the flight controls into the wind as we came to a stop. Since the resultant takeoff would be very short, the instructor said that I should leave 10 degrees of flaps as I “cleaned up” the airplane. Upon advancing full power for takeoff, the instructor reminded me to close the carburetor heat during the after-takeoff “blessing”. As with the first takeoff, I needed to hold a substantial crab angle in order to climb out over runway centerline; correcting for drift on the crosswind leg and at climb airspeed was even more dramatic. This was one of the few training advantages of the weather: the exaggerated wind made it easier to see how to point the nose in one direction to track in another, as the airplane again seemed to slide around.

     If anything, the wind was stronger on this approach than the last one. On the second approach I had a better idea of when to turn and how much extra airspeed to carry, although I still did not move the controls enough to keep the airplane from sliding due to the crosswind component of the wind. I was reminded that a pilot’s job does not stop when the wheels touch the ground; rather, the same level of attention must be paid during taxiing and aircraft securing as in earlier stages of flight. We taxied to 4202Q’s T-hangar, shut down the engine, and stowed it inside, being sure to turn the battery switch off and take necessary equipment back to the terminal.

     Debrief included a discussion on making a go or no-go call based on weather, as well as my rather leisurely final approaches while fighting the wind. The instructor began filing out presolo paperwork, and we discussed what we would write on this website.  Overall, this flight provided a good lesson on flight (particularly landings) in less than ideal conditions, as well as recovery from abnormal flight attitudes like spins and spirals.