Aw, “We’d like to remain in the pattern”

Today was my first flight after the first solo. It felt like a lot of pressure to nail the landings because I’ve been working on it for so long. Last time, I was told to study emergency procedures, short field takeoff/landings, and soft field takeoff/landings.

I’ve practiced an emergency 180 with CFI4 every time we’ve flown (he randomly picks a lap in the pattern to pull the power to idle when I’m abeam the touchdown point, I land without touching the throttle) and other emergency practices so I feel that my emergency procedures are good. CFI4 originally wanted me to do more solo pattern work today, but the lack of sunlight made it impossible. We used this evening to do soft field and short field work.

CFI4 rapidly became one of my top favorites at the flight school – but he flies military helicopters for his day job, so I could only schedule time with him starting at 5:30pm. There still isn’t snow on the ground in Fairbanks, so I’ve been forgetting that fall Fairbanks loses 6 minutes of daylight everyday. Sunset was 5:35pm today, civil twilight at 6:29. Aiiii.

Having grown up in Georgia, I also forgot that in places where it gets cold, you sometimes need to allot time to scrape the ice off your car windows. So I was about 3 minutes late, and CFI4 had been there really early because he felt bad about being so late last time I flew with him. Whoops. The sun was right on the horizon and I wanted to fly?

But 10 soft field/short field takeoffs&landings works for me – even in the dark. I’d only done short field takeoffs before and I looked forward to doing something new in the pattern (although I’d really wanted to fly away from the airport – I’m antsy enough I would have enjoyed the dreaded practice area next to the airport).

We used 2R, right base, like usual (the lack of left base practice worries me a little).  Even though it was night with cool air, we had a light wind/chop over the airport, so I got to practice crabbing into the wind – such a strange thing to have a ground track ‘off to the side’ of the plane.

Short field takeoff – always lots of fun. My work was good.

Short field landing – I don’t necessarily enjoy coming down so quickly after clearing my imaginary obstacle at the runway threshold (need more practice).

Soft field takeoff – I never used enough right rudder on any of these. I don’t pull back enough on the yoke. I have to use a lot of forward pressure immediately after takeoff to let the plane accelerate to 70 knots (maybe use trim next time).

Soft field landing – I don’t pull back enough on the yoke.

I need to be more patient when turning to final. I’m turning too early/steeply – subconsciously trying to get the turn over with so I can set myself up on final. I’m also much too worried about interfering with the parallel runway – I’m flying a 150 with only 100hp, I’m not going to zip anywhere really fast.

I need to be more patient on my emergency 180s. I still turn too quickly towards the runway so I use up a lot the length. Not a big deal, but it could be prettier.

Almost every landing was just awful. Most of these were definitely not straight/hitting a bit hard. All the instructor stories of small aircraft wheels crumpling under side loads has me a bit freaked out. I’m still overcorrecting when I try to pull myself to centerline just before flare. Then I’m not focused enough to get back to centerline once the main wheels are on the ground. I feel like such an impostor…having soloed and now I can’t even land straight (especially since landing straight never has been such a persistent problem in my other lessons).

ATC instructions- New jumble of stuff learned:

  • Initially contacted FAI ground before taxi and was told to immediately switch to tower (no mention of this on ATIS). Apparently this will usually be the normal operating procedures as we head into the colder months (less traffic).
  • We started out doing doing stop-and-goes but ATC told us ‘we couldn’t stop on the runway and that we were cleared for everything else.’ Not entirely sure why. There was only 1 other plane in the pattern [on ski2] and we weren’t close enough together to interfere with each other….oh well. This instruction came while I was on short final; I was told that I didn’t need to respond because it was a critical phase of the flight [didn’t know that could be a valid instruction] (I didn’t catch tower’s words and I do wish I had audio of this lesson so I could hear what I missed – PAFA liveatc.net doesn’t currently have tower)
  • And this isn’t new knowledge to me but just a mistake I should avoid: I once got cleared to land instead of being cleared for the option. I did my readback as ‘cleared for the option‘ – both ATC and CFI4 talked over each other telling me no. We were supposed to wait on the runway until cleared to takeoff (waiting for a plane to take off on ski2{ski2 is the gravel runway extension at the end of 2R} – the missing piece of my mental confusion puzzle). I let this debacle distract me enough that my base leg was way farther out then it should have been (past the river). I know, I know, always aviate first, then navigate, then communicate.

—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—~—

Last night, Fairbanks got the best aurora of this fall (finally, we get something!). I need to see if I can time my night cross country flight with a geomagnetically active night (CFIs tell me that auroras in a moving plane are extra awesome). Enjoy some pictures from UAF’s physics graduate students:

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This looks like the only arc I saw last night. Man, I missed a good show. [M. Copper, http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcopper89/]
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Looking towards UAF’s West Ridge research buildings [M. Hsieh]
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Looking east from UAF’s Harwood Building [M. Duncan]
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Aurora was so bright it was visible through the street lights in town [M. Copper]

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