Archive for November, 2011

Lesson 11 : Slow Flight and Stalling

Saturday, November 26th, 2011 | Permalink

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

The aero club had a meet-up the other night, the second I’ve managed to make it to, a good night all round and another reason why flying at a club is more than just a formal training exercise.   I’m meeting more and more great people along the way.

Today the objective was to do really slow flying (45-50knots) and lots and lots of stalls in various configurations.   To get a feel of entry into a stall, the symptoms to watch out for and the correct way to recover should the stall develop.


I’d be flying with an instructor I’ve flown with before, his day job is a commercial airline pilot so I enjoy flying with him as I feel I learn a lot.

Primarily the briefing was focused on checking I understood why a plane (in particular its wings) stalls:   The critical angle of attack of the wings has been exceeded. Various other factors on what will make a plane more likely to stall (such as banking the aircraft, having the flaps down…..) and the airspeed’s at which such things can be expected to begin to occur.

However, when it comes to airspeed, read the above italic statement again.   Stalling is not due to flying below a constant speed, but about exceeding the critical angle of attack of the wings for a given speed.    As such the angle of attack at which the plane stalls is relative to the speed you’re flying and the airflow you’ve got going over/under the wings.    Consequently you can stall at any speed.

In a Cessna 172SP though, the general rule is that with flaps up, wings level, it will stall around the 45knot mark.

A quick check I’d memorised my HASELL & HELL checks and we were on our way….

Plane Checkout

A conversation with the club administrator concluded there’d been some discussion in our absence and we’d be flying Charlie Bravo – I did ponder if my regular instructor was setting me up, because she knows Charlie Bravo does not like me much.

My opinion of Charlie Bravo was not much improved when I looked at the technical logs and saw it only had 4.5 hours of flying time left on it before it needed scheduled maintenance (So I’d take it 1 hour closer to the end its serviced life…… was going to be in top form then!)

Twenty gallons in the left tank, Eighteen in the right and nothing else exciting to report beyond the fact that I could almost believe its throttle and mixture plungers had been replaced with shiny new ones (but more likely someone had just cleaned them).

Taxi and Take-Off

The taxi to the holding point was very smooth and very centred, either I’m getting better or Charlie Bravo was having a good day…….didn’t get told off for riding the brakes so I was at least getting that right for once!

In a strange way I think my night flight taxi improved my taxing, but it could just be a one off.

As we set up to finish the power checks into wind at the holding point another Cessna requested permission to taxi, nothing unusual except this time I knew the pilots voice!!    Very bizarre, we’d met at a previous club meeting night, she’d have been hearing my (thankfully good) taxi request, I could hear hers and she was about to hear if I stuffed up my request for take off clearance or not…….. It shouldn’t be strange, but not knowing the people who can hear your radio calls is one thing, knowing is something else.

After getting our clearance to take-off from runway 23, I got it roughly lined up straight and then on with full power, 65 knots, pull back on the yoke and it was up, up and into massive amounts of wind!

I mean properly all over the place wind, it was like flying a helicopter trying to keep the plane level and the airspeed at a constant 80 knots.    It was never going to be my best work, but the instructor left me to it so it can’t have been to far wrong.

Climbing to 3,500ft

The gusting wind continued up to 2,000-2,500ft.   After which we were above the worst of it and things became very nicely settled.

Tower Air Traffic Control call us to contact approach, this is all normal except this time my instructor looks at me and says “Do you want to do it….” In the spontaneousness of it all I bailed on the idea and let him handle the reply (I was busy flying a plane and nobody said anything about being able to do that radio call today  🙂 ……but I’m pleased it happened because it’s another step forward on the radio work).

I did a climbing turn to the west and kept us going up before leveling out around 3,500ft.

Slow flight

Backed the power right out and let the plane hold straight and level at around 55knots, this was a chance to play with the controls and get a feel for how much more sluggish everything becomes.

The other thing that strikes you on slow flight is the quietness, the engine is working so much less that it’s actually quite a peaceful background sound.


This won’t be universally true, but from a straight and level cruise configuration – stalling a Cessna 172SP is a lot like hard work!   You have to get the airspeed right down, to do this you take out all the power, but doing this makes the nose want to naturally drop…….if you let it, it will pickup speed and you won’t stall, so you have to pull back on the yoke to keep the nose up, pull back some more, and some more and some more……

45-48Knots the stall warner horn begins to go off for the first time.

Pull back some more….

40-43knots, it stalls……..the left wing dips, the nose drops.

Resisting the temptation to correct the wing drop (using ailerons at this stage risks making the stall worse), I push forward on the control column let the speed come up to 72 and then correct the wings and climb out of the stall.

As simple as that, other then spending 3-4 seconds pointing at the ground, nothing much to it.   I didn’t look at our descent rate during the stall, due to being a bit busy recovering it, but I’d guess if I’d done nothing we could have pointed at the ground for 2.5-3 minutes before hitting it.

After recovery I was told it was a nice recovery, I’d not fallen to the temptation of applying aileron before unstalling the wings.

We did a few more stalls, and then started to use power to recover the stalls.   During the latter, I was told that while I was handling the plane nicely I was perhaps pointing at the ground for a bit longer then I needed to…….we did a few more to work on that.

Stalling with Flaps

If stalling a Cessna 172SP with wings level felt like hard work, stalling it with flaps was like trying to stab yourself in the hand with a needle  – you can do it, but to actually go through with it requires quite a lot of mental intent.

This is not because you don’t want to, but because the stall speed of a Cessna 172SP with the flaps down is ~30knots (you could get out and run as fast, though you’d probably fall faster then you ran if you tried….)

A quick 90 degree turn (at 30 degrees of bank) left, followed by a 90 right to check the area is good and a re-run of the HELL check, we’re good to go, very few planes are up today it seems.

Flaps down, wings level, all the power off…..lifting the nose, lifting the nose some more, still lifting the nose – unless you were to put on a ton of trim at this point the plane is so heavy you should know you’re doing something daft.  Still lifting the nose…..finally at around 35-40knots the stall warner goes, but the wings have not stalled, so still lifting the nose and wham the left wing drops like a brick, the nose follows it.

Some rudder, push the nose forward to unstall the wings, power on, as the wings unstall I climb away.

It’s not the fastest recovery and my instructor suggests that I’m still pointing the plane at the ground a bit longer then necessary.   I suspect this has something to do with visually not feeling threatened, I can see we’re pointing towards the ground, but I can also see I’m 3300ft up and have plenty of time – so instinctively I’m flowing out of the stall, rather then panicking out of it like you might do if you did this at three hundred feet.

We try a few more to try and get me to recover a touch faster, but that makes me start putting aileron on first – so now I’m swapping error for another.

We head out west again and do a load more stall and slow flight work, before finally my instructor takes the controls and demonstrates a Spiral Dive.   It’s about as ‘aerobatic’ as a Cessna can get (and as close to a Spin as you’re allowed to do), something for my next lesson.

Out of time I’m handed back the controls and we head for base.

Approach & Landing

With ATC permission we ‘sneak’ into the downwind leg of the circuit, I descended pretty fast to get us down to circuit flying height of 1000ft, just in time.

I make the turn on to the base leg, followed almost immediately by a turn on to final.    All the power off, flaps down, we’re descending from 1000ft at 70knots.

It’s insanely windy, my instructor has already told me he’ll do the landing, but for now I’m still flying the plane, 500ft, it’s all still nicely lined up the wind is insane at this altitude, but with a fair bit of right rudder on, we’re heading right for the runway numbers.   300ft, a touch low, a bit more power on to correct that and it’s back to looking fairly good…… at 150ft my instructor takes control, at this stage there was nothing wrong with the approach and I truly believe I could have landed the plane on that run.

Wouldn’t want to take all the fun out of it though, the official lesson on landing is within arms reach now (2-3 lessons depending on how they split it up), and this carrot on a stick temptation of being allowed to get the plane down to 100ft before the carrot is pulled away again is probably part of what keeps me coming back 🙂


After taxing back to parking and shutting Charlie Bravo down, my instructor says my approach was very good.   He says I’ve got good grasp on slow flight, stalling and recovering and should be able to finish it all off in the next lesson without any problems.   The note on why recovering promptly is important is reiterated which is a fair comment.

All in all though, a very enjoyable lesson and given the wind, very pleased to have been able to get this done – the opportunities to get to 3,500ft to do this kind of exercise as winter approaches are going to get more and more limited.

Lesson 10: Night Flight

Friday, November 25th, 2011 | Permalink

Not so much a lesson, as an experience and a chance to just go flying and put a lot of what I’ve learnt to-date into practice (but at night!).

In the UK the night rating requires 5 hours of night flying and is dependant on a lot of the skills which essentially rule out doing it in parallel with a PPL.  However, where I fly the window to go flying at night exists from approx. first week of November to early in the new year.   So if I wanted to go flying at night, it was now or wait a year…..

Double checking with the aero club, the answer came back that I was good to go for at least the first lesson of the course (put an instructor in the right hand seat and the general rule of thumb is you can go an experience pretty much whatever – to the limits of your ability).

I’d flown only once with the instructor who’d be taking me up and to be honest it was my overall worst lesson (very windy and my flying was a bit all over the place in terms of accuracy), time to see if I’d improved any….

Briefing & Checkout

The briefing is best summed up like this:

The world will be divided up into two categories:   Very bright areas of light and Very Dark bits….. You won’t be able to see anything on the ground either way.    Should the engine fail, aim for a dark bit, you’ll have no idea if anything is there until around 100ft – turn the landing light on, if you don’t like what you see, turn the landing light off again!

It sounds like a joke, but it’s deadly serious the one thing that my instructor repeated was that night flying was dangerous.    The most dangerous phase of flying is taking off and all the way up to 1000ft – at this airport you have a few fields ahead that give you options, but at night you can’t see any of them……..if the engine fails on take off, it’ll be “best guess” approach for a field and a lot of praying!

All that said, the very last thing I am is scared of flying (day, night or upside down).   So I was far more excited about getting to go flying at night then I was worried about anything going wrong.

My instructor did the checkout of the plane, I suspect he wanted to be just as sure it was in top form and the plane was brimmed to the top with fuel (~20 gallons in each tank…….so about 4 hours of flying time).

Checklists at night

Escapism at its best, if you’ve ever imagined what it must have been like during world war 2 – then being in a cramped light aircraft with a red filtered torch searching for where you were on the checklist, switches & gauges brings the sensation truly home……. just going through the checks at night with a red filtered torch in hand was a lot of fun, I could have got the plane going, shut it down and I’d have still walked away smiling.

Take-Off and Climb

The radio calls were smooth and taxing gave the first ‘night phenomenon’, at night you’ll over speed on taxi if you keep looking forwards.  The tendency is to feel like you’re going quite slow (but turn your head left/right and you soon realise you’ve got more power on then you thought!).

My instructor did the take off and climb, for reasons highlighted above.

Calm Skies and Amazing Views

From 1000ft I was handed the controls and did a turning climb left up to 2,500ft.

There was very little wind and other than the beginnings of some pretty light haze/fog visibility was excellent at way beyond 10km.

I flew towards Newmarket, you know your ground speed is ~115mph, but it still seems to always amaze me how blisteringly fast you can cover distance in a light aircraft doing this speed (the reasons are obvious:  It’s direct point to point rather than following any roads and you’re outpacing even those who dare risk prosecution and drive beyond 100mph on the roads). This speed coupled with the fact that you can see 30-40 miles ahead of your position means that places are insight long before you reach them.

Everything my instructor had said on the ground was true.

The world was now very bright areas of light (towns/cities), or total black – perhaps it was a field, or perhaps there’s a house there and they’ve gone out for the night……if the engine cut out at this altitude, we’d have 5 minutes of gliding before we found out.

The views were still amazing though, you could watch major roads and see a sea of cars suddenly decide to start braking.

We turned and flew directly over Newmarket, now heading towards Bar Hill, keeping the A14 on my left (as per rules of the air for flying following a major feature).

There is a large Tesco (Superstore) at Bar Hill, from 2,500ft the one feature on the ground I could make out easily was its brightly lit sign.

Flying in a Blackout.

We were flying G-SHWK, it’s the only plane in the club that has a working autopilot (turned off) and a built in full colour display GPS (turned ON).   This made flying at night very simple, as knowing where we were was no problem at all……..but I knew in myself that if I turned that off, I’d be lost pretty damn quick.

As we reached Huntington, I turned the plane around an my instructor turned the GPS display OFF.   Now I had the A14 to follow and that was it, deviate from this major feature and very quickly I suspect I wouldn’t know one bright area of light from another (all villages look pretty similar at night).

Going back to my escapism of how it might have been for world war 2 bomber pilots, I was left thinking “How on earth did they ever find anything!”  (Now statistically you could argue they rarely ever did……forcing the use of daylight bombing raids for precision bombing).   However, I did find myself stopping and thinking a little about the dambuster crews and how on earth they ever managed to fine the damns!    A single navigation error and you’d have almost no hope of recovering.

It equally made me realise just how affective “blackouts” must have been, lit up a village/town/city was very easy to spot get over and thus hit…….but if the entire place collectively turned their lights off, forget it, you’d be dead reckoning to target and that’d be that, one black patch looked like the next even from 2,500ft (from 10,000ft I’d guess it would have been just total blackness generally).

Airports:   Invisible at night…..

Approach an airport at night and amongst a sea of bright yellow/white light, if you’re careful and know roughly where to look you’ll see an occasional flashing green beacon – but look carefully because amongst all the other light there’s a real chance you won’t see it.

Fantastic, that’s the airport…….now where’s the runway?

This was the most striking feature of the whole flight, you may have seen approaches on to runways before, they’re very well lit welcoming rows of lights showing you the entire path to touch down.    This is all true, so long as you’re lined up with the runway!

From any other direction, all those lights on the runway are basically invisible, at 2-5nm you’ll see them, but by this point you’re almost on top of the runway (if you’re 2 miles out, you’ll be there in 60 seconds and due to your altitude it’ll be practically directly below the plane visually).

Land or Touch and Go?

My instructor gave me an option, this would likely be my last night flight for a while, so I was in no rush to end the lesson:   Touch and Go.

I flew the circuit, lined up and handed over the controls.

My instructor did a very good landing, back on with the power, got us up to 1000ft and then handed the controls back to me.    I got to do the circuit and again line it up, flaps down, around 200ft handing the controls back.

We had a massive tailwind on the approach, even with the flaps down and all the power off, we were still coming in at 90knots (65knots it the typical landing speed).

But my instructor did another stella job of touching down and then it was over to me again to taxi us home and try and find the parking bay.

Overall:  Go try it!

If you’ve got enough hours under you to be able to fly straight and level, climb/descend & turn.   I’d recommend you nag a flight instructor near you to let you go for an experience of flying at night.

I truly enjoyed this lesson, almost all the flying was done by me and it was really enjoyable to not have a lesson where the objective was to learn X, but to actually just go and put what I knew into practice and go sightseeing.

There is masses I still have to learn, but the occasional “just for fun” lesson is really worth doing.

……..speaking of which, I’m starting to miss the Extra 200, thinking I’d seriously like to be back up in the clubs Extra maybe in January.

HASELL & HELL : Checks before Stalling

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 | Permalink

As abbreviated checklists go, these are perhaps the most fitting for the act you’re about to perform…… My next PPL lesson is stalls, so time to engrave these two checks into memory:


H eight……..Height => Time => Safety
Airframe…..Are the flaps etc. as we want them
Security……No loose articles, everything secure – we’ll have enough to be getting on with without stuff flying into the controls!
Engine………Are the “T’s & P'”  (Temperatures & Pressures) in the green, set at the power setting we expect.
Location……Do we know where we are?  & Are we clear of built up areas?
Lookout…….Normally done with a 360 turn, no planes coming anywhere near us any time soon are there?

Now given the airframe won’t change (unless something goes very badly wrong) and it’s unlikely things will become unsecured.   Future maneuvers can be performed with the abbreviated HELL Check.


……..and then for no good reason other than learning an entry of a stall, close the throttle, lift the nose, watch the speed drop and drop and drop and wait for the stall.

Something for a couple of weekends time from now, the observant reader will notice I said that Stalls are my next Proper Lesson.    I say this, because between now and then, I’m booked in to go and do a Night Flight.

If I’ve learnt one thing since starting my PPL training, it’s that all you need is an instructor in the plane and you can pretty much go and try doing anything – to the limits of your current abilities at the time you want to go try it.

Lesson 9: Turning

Sunday, November 6th, 2011 | Permalink

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

It’d been a bleak morning, grey low clouds with the threat of showers, but the weather forecast the night before had said it would break in the afternoon.   Upon arrival to the aero club by some miracle, this prediction was coming true.   Blue skies were emerging and the wind was calming down nicely.

My instructor said we were on.

This was followed by mutterings that another instructor had Charlie Bravo, I must admit a slight smile crossed my face at this news.  Wiskey Kilo was contemplated, but for reasons I’ll never know was passed over for Romeo Charlie (G-HERC).   Another smile, I like Whiskey Kilo alot but it has bells and whistles that I don’t need in my life right now (autopilots that need to be checked are off etc.) .   Romeo Charlie taxi’s nicely, idles well and flies great but has less of the bells and whistle features I don’t need.


Having already been briefed, there was no need to repeat it but for anyone reading this blog for the first time, a quick recap of turning:

The goal is to turn the plane at 30 degrees of bank, without gaining or losing altitude.   The procedure is: Bank, Balance, apply Back Pressure…….and finally look out for other planes.

Check-Out & Taxi

Fifteen gallons in the left tank and eighteen gallons in the right, visually confirmed and checked for impurities.   Romeo Charlie was looking in its normal good form, except it now appeared to be missing a cowling screw on its port (left) side and strangely the exact same position on the starboard side was loose.   It still had plenty of others holding it down so my instructor didn’t seem worried – I must admit I was not so worried about the cowling coming off, but more about the concept of a rogue screw falling out of the plane mid-flight, descending rapidly earthward.

When it came to the radio, it was soooo quiet, it was if the whole world had stopped flying so my initial reaction was “I’ve either got the wrong radio selected, or the volume is off, or something….”  but nope, it was just down to the fact the weather had been rubbish, nobody was flying.  My taxi clearance request was clear and on the money, remembering this time to read back the runway – also remembering that when a barometric pressure is below a thousand millibars, that “millibars” has to be added on to the read-back.   In this case “QNH 995 millibars”.

After many lessons of not riding the brakes, with my original instructor back flying with me, I’m back to riding the brakes.   Arrrgh!!

Other than that the taxi was nice enough, did power checks into wind with a C-130 Hercules behind our little Cessna.

The Air Traffic Information Service (ATIS) was describing the runway as “Wet, Wet, Wet.”

At this point I was asked how many take-off’s I’d done?    Hoping it was enough I replied, two.

Take Off & Climb Out

Two seemed to be good enough, so I’d be doing the take off – regardless of the wet runway (though I got the impression if this had been my first, it wouldn’t have happened today).

A last check there’s nothing coming as we roll on to the runway, line up and it’s progressively on with the power.   Keeping it nice and straight, I found myself almost dawdling as we hit 65knots, enjoying the speed or something and not getting on with the task of applying back pressure to get the plane in the sky.   We went up though and were soon heading nicely towards 1000ft.

Remembering to keep eyes looking out of the cockpit as we climb, not staring at the instruments as I did last take off.  I’m not sure whether this was what made the take off better, or if it was just the fact I had the weather now on my side.

Leveling off @ 3,000ft

My last few ‘first climb of the lesson” have been overshoots, typically by 150ft before it’s all trimmed up – I was pretty absolute in my mind that this was not happening on this climb, hell would freeze over before I’d let Romeo Charlie go even 20ft over 3,000 as I leveled off.

And with the last touch of the trim wheel, the indicated altitude was 3,000ft exactly.   Much better.

Turning (30 degrees of bank)

All my turns to-date have been around 20 degrees, now to put a touch more on and go round, round, round and round some more……without gaining or losing altitude.

Because a Cessna is a high wing aircraft, it’s good to lift the wing of the direction you’re going to turn into and check there’s nothing out there you can’t see.   Then it’s bank into the turn applying a little rudder in the same direction as the turn to offset the yaw and applying a small amount of back pressure to keep the plane from losing altitude.

Once in the turn you want to keep a good lookout, really leaning forward to see as far as you can.

If you don’t like heights, this is not going to be for you, in a left turn as you look out and along the now lowered wing you get a great view of the ground in a 30 degree turn.    The sky was really clear and this did give some great views, but great views was not why I was up here today.

The horizon was a bit patchy so we skipped over turns on to a landmark and went straight for turns on to a heading.

I was given a heading of ‘North’, if I turned right I have about 40 degrees before I’d have to start rolling out – so I decided I’d go “the long way round” and turn left (remember the views were worth seeing).   Not wanting to overshoot, I managed to roll out under shooting by 5-10 degrees.    I was then given the heading of 240 degrees and just to keep it interesting I decided I’d turn right for this.

I’m sure my roll out on to heading could be a bit tighter but generally seemed ok to move on.

Turning Climbs / Descents

When climbing or descending in a turn, its typically done at 15 degrees rather than 30 – but just to prove a point we did a couple of turning climbs at 30 degrees to show that everything starts happening faster as you try and climb and hold a turn at 30 degrees.   At 15 you have much more time to keep things in order.

Again all going fairly nicely.

Stall Demonstration – (360 Degree turn)

Having climbed up to 3,300ft my instructor said she’d demonstrate a stall – as that was what I’d be doing next lesson.

As the person who would likely take me out for my final check flight (somewhere on a far away horizon at this point) likes 360 degree turns to ensure the area is clear before doing this maneuver.   I was told to do one and not worry if I climbed a little, but absolutely don’t lose altitude (this is because you have to have sufficient altitude to have recovered the stall – this is 3000ft above the ground [as appose to above sea level] for a student pilot and 2,000ft for an instructor).

Entering the turn all that went through my mind was “must not lose altitude, lose altitude and might not get to stall….”   (I’m sure most people don’t hope to be in a stall in an aeroplane – but I have no problem with stalls and I’m keen to keep ticking the boxes).

Completing the turn roughly at the same altitude we went into it, I handed control back to my my instructor, who then went through the motions of entering the stall:

Slowing the airplane, lowering the flaps, slowing it some more, lifting the nose, lowering the speed some more.   Around 35-40knots the stall warning horn went off, as we lost around 5knots more the plane stalled…….fell 20-40ft before my instructor pointed the nose back at the ground, put power back on and recovered it.   Simples!

Two things stood out for me in this stall demonstration:

  1. The stall warning horn isn’t half as loud as videos online will make you believe (at least it isn’t when you’ve got a headset on).
  2. It’s a fairly straightforward event, if you enjoy being in a stall then I’d say go take a lesson in an Extra – stalling that is much more fun and even though this was done with all the right safety in place, is always going to be safer.

Heading for home

With the stall demo done we headed home, back to a ‘wet, wet, wet’ runway.

This had been one of my best lessons to date, things just went well.   Some of the stupid small things like the plane actually starting without a fight, went smooth (Charlie Bravo hates me). Some of the bigger stuff like being more accurate on leveling out of a climb went well.   There wasn’t much wind, the skies were great and in a weird way the early morning bad weather keeping loads of other General Aviation on the ground was also really nice…….because I fly out of a commercial airport on some days of the week there is a bombardment of radio traffic and planes to watch out for.   Not today.

All fingers crossed now, because my next ‘lesson’ is actually a night flight.   Just for a bit of fun, less about getting my PPL and more about seeing what it’s like and seeing what the world holds after that distant day of getting the PPL.

Lesson 9: Turning (Abandoned Crosswind)

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 | Permalink

Attempt 2 to get this lesson in the bag was called off even sooner than the first.

On arrival to the aero club the sky was looking less than great but not entirely without hope, but the wind was really starting to pick up across the runway.

In the off chance it calmed my instructor sent me out to check the plane (Charlie Bravo…..again), but within 15 minutes she was walking over to tell me to stop as this was just not going to happen today, the wind was at its limits across the runway.

There’s always part of you that wants to get up there and keep progressing with the lessons, but in reality the lessons are better when done in good weather.

Thankfully there was another slot free just a day or so away so I booked that one up…….the weather is looking 50/50, but you never know.