This flight saw fairly warm weather, with a breeze producing a slight crosswind. I made six landings, some of which were conducted better than others, and performed one downwind takeoff to illustrate the resultant performance handicap. The preflight briefing was more extensive than most, as we went over my presolo exam and corrections. We discussed the purpose of the flight as to put in more landing practice, then retrieved and preflighted the airplane.
Engine start followed the checklist, and after performing the runup checks on the aircraft I taxied us down to the threshold of runway 24. The aircraft got moving a bit too fast during this movement, and so I braked to slow us down. The instructor directed me to turn the airplane into the wind at the hold short line to execute the pre-takeoff “blessing” of the airplane: Instruments set, trim set, fuel selector on BOTH, flaps at discretion, lights as required, and radio programmed. As I transmitted our intensions to fly a “closed pattern”, I advanced the throttle to maximum power and held right rudder to correct for torque factors.
The after-takeoff checklist constitutes less of a formal “checklist” and more of a sort of flow. After I applied power, I was to examine the airspeed indicator for rotation speed and the engine instruments for any signs of trouble before rotating. Once the airplane was definitely off the ground, I set climb trim, waited until we had passed up all remaining usable runway, then retracted the flaps and turned off the landing lights. The key to this flow, which took some practice to get right, is timing. The airplane needs to be in landing configuration if it would help an aborted takeoff, and landing lights should be turned off as necessary, but both these tasks are secondary to maintaining control of the airplane. At some point I also needed to look backwards to make sure that we were climbing out straight over the runway.
All six patterns were flown at field pattern altitude (1000 ft AGL), although at the flight instructor’s suggestion I was to make the crosswind and downwind turns almost at the same time so as to put the airplane quite close to the runway. I tended to bank slightly right, causing the airplane to drift away from the runway, although the instructor corrected this quickly.
I was also directed to hold the control yoke at its bottom with two fingers of my left hand, so as to better feel control pressures. Flying like this made trim imbalances more noticeable, so I tended to use adjust trim settings frequently so as to make the downwind leg easier to fly straight and level and to maintain airspeed (not attitude) during climbs and descents.
Descent and landings utilized normal procedures, with the UNICOM transmission “Russellville traffic, Cessna Skyhawk on downwind for runway 24, Russellville traffic”, power reduced to 1900 RPMS/carburetor heat abeam the middle of the runway, and a level flight attitude held. I allowed the airplane to slow to 85 knots of airspeeds before deploying 30 degrees of flaps, at which point the airplane was allowed to begin descending. As the touchdown point (white bars near the runway threshold) moved behind my left shoulder, I began turning to the left at about a 20 degree bank angle. As the instructor directed me to remember to coordinate the turn using rudder, I transmitted my intensions and began to land the airplane. I tended to fly my patterns so as to begin a slow left turn to final early (at about 800 ft AGL), making it easier to judge exactly when to straighten up and level the wings for a slip, crab, or other approach techniques
On a couple of my final legs, the instructor used the method of striking up conversation about topics other than aviation to slightly distract me, which evidently resulted in my making better touchdowns. The instructor explained the rationale behind this exercise is that by breaking an incorrect student mindset, the better performance during distracted landings illustrates that one main problem with my approaches during this flight was my tendency to hold the flight controls fixed, rather than continually move them, upon flaring and aerodynamic braking. I was told to play “don’t touch the ground” with the airplane; the idea was to develop a sense of when to begin the flare in reference to the end of the runway and the ground adjacent to the airplane’s approach path. I found the amount and timing of back pressure to be important as well: if you don’t flare enough or not at all, the nosewheel could potentially contact the ground first, with the possibility of disastrous consequences; if you flare too soon and have a slight excess of power and/or airspeed, the airplane may float or even begin to climb until it runs out of airspeed and stalls (in this case, the solution is to “clear the engine”, or add power momentarily, to slow the airplane’s rate of descent and cushion the landing).
One landing involved a more substantial crosswind correction than the rest, and the importance of the concept of continual control input during the very last stage of flight became even more apparent. It is even more important for the pilot to keep the airplane exactly where he wants it during a crosswind landing, because both the methods of a wing-low slip and a crab angle require changed as airspeed decreases and ground effect begins to factor in. In my case, I used only a few degrees of flaps and had the airplane in a slip to the right, but with the nose pointed to the left of the centerline, in an effort to re-center the aircraft. When I applied right rudder to straighten out the ground track, the nose appeared to drop and a side load was imposed on the main landing gear; the resulting jolt made for a rough landing.
I began taxiing the airplane off the runway and back towards its T-hangar after the six landings; during this final phase of flight, the instructor reminded me to pull back on the yoke when rolling over gravel, tall grass, and other potential cause for FOD with the propeller. Debriefing consisted of a short discussion primarily concerning landing mistakes requiring rectification and skill development to be logged.