Archive for November, 2012

Practice Forced Landing Briefing: The lesson that never was

Saturday, November 24th, 2012 | Permalink

Normally if the phone rings before 9am on a weekend, it’s the aero club, often a good thing as it means there’s a last minute slot going 🙂    However, on this particular day the phone rang, but realising it was past 9am, this couldn’t be a cancellation.

It was still the aero club, but this time ringing to tell me I was late for my lesson.  ‘Lesson?, I never booked any lesson for this weekend, same time next week is what’s on my phone.’   Other than to suggest in over a year I’ve never missed one yet, we won’t go into who was right or wrong here, it doesn’t matter.

What made this particular call a bit strange was the background banter of whether or not I should just come in anyway:

“Come in….”
“What’s he doing?”
“Practice Forced Landings”
“Oh, well we don’t have the weather for that…”

Maybe I just wasn’t awake enough at the time, but after a debate of whether I could get down there quick enough to still grab the lesson, this banter was some what amusing  🙂

Bad weather seems to leave the instructors filing ‘important paperwork’ (possibly involving coffee and talking about the weather), so it doesn’t always mean it’s a total loss for a student.   I was invited to go down anyway and we’d go through the briefing for the lesson.   Good stuff (and the one thing in flying that is actually free! 🙂 ).

Practice Forced Landings

General idea is to get comfortable with the procedures involved should the engine stop or decide to burst into flames.

Without thrust, the aircraft will assume a landing configuration…….in as much as you’re going down whether you wanted to or not.

In the event such things occur, there’s a sequence of priorities and things to be getting on with in order to maximise the chances of the end result being a landing, rather than a crash.

Practice Forced Landing Briefing

Practice Forced Landing Briefing

  1. Set Best Glide Range Airspeed :  70 knots in a Cessna 172 – Anything faster or slower and your glide range will be reduced, though worth noting that best glide range is not the speed to set if you want best glide endurance……..but unless we’re trying to avoid ditching in the sea for the maximum amount of time possible, range is what we want.
  2. Select a Field : It might be a bunch of houses ahead of us, but perhaps there’s a field behind or on the far side of us, you never know your luck maybe even an airfield 🙂     Preferably into wind as this will reduce our ground speed, start planning – can we reach it etc.   When selecting a field, it’s all about the S’s:
    1. Size
    2. Shape
    3. Surface
    4. Slope
    5. Surroundings
  3. Restart Checks :  Assuming this is an engine failure, now we have given ourselves maximum range and know where we’re going to try and put the plane if all else fails, time to see if we can’t get the engine going again.
    1. Mixture:  Is it rich?   Exercise it and reset to rich
    2. Throttle:  Is it open?  Exercise it and set to about half power.
    3. Fuel Shut Off:   Should be ON   (fully pushed in)
    4. Fuel Tanks:  Select Both
    5. Aux. Fuel Pump:  ON
    6. Magnetos:  Left, Right, back to Both
    7. Try Restarting the engine.
  4. Check the Plan:  If it hasn’t restarted, time to double check we can still make the intended field, that nothing new hasn’t now come up to make that original field unusable (e.g. now we can see there are power lines etc.), are we still at the right airspeed.
  5. Distress Call:   Time to wake up the world……7700 on the Transponder to indicate an emergency, radio call “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday <Call Sign> <Type of Emergency> <Location> <Number of Persons on board>”.    Unless by some miracle there is an airfield within glide range, in which case this radio call should be enough to promote you to number 1 in the landing order.   Other than deploying the emergency services, that’s about all Air Traffic can help you with – so unless the engine restarts and the crisis goes away, not much need in talking to them after this.
  6. Check the Plan:  Airspeed / Can we still make it / Is it still the field for us.???
  7. Shutdown Checks:   This plane is now officially no fun, but it’s potentially going to be less fun if you hit the ground with everything live, time to turn it all off (If the emergency was a fire, you’d have already forgotten about restarting it):
    1. Mixture :  Lean / Idle Cut Off
    2. Throttle Closed
    3. Fuel Shutoff:   OFF (Pulled out)
    4. Aux. Fuel Pump:  OFF
    5. Magnetos:  Off

At some point we want to turn the Avionics and Master Switches OFF, however, the Avionics drives the transponder, so we might want to avoid turning that off straight away.   The master switch drives everything, if we turn that off, we’ll lose the avionics, the flaps, the lights…….primarily we’re concerned we might still want those flaps and we won’t want to take them early, because once the height is lost there will be no getting it back.   As a result these will be the last two switches to go off.

Circuit / Approach

As per the sketch on the white board above, the aim is to be at 1000ft at a specific point, or “Low Key” point.   From here the final part of the approach can be flown:

  • Too Low : Fly more directly to the aiming point
  • Too High: Fly away from the aiming point, or ‘S’ turn.

The idea is to aim for a touch down point about half way into the field selected, as the height is lost and it is certain we could make that point, the aiming point is brought closer to around a third into the field.   Though speed needs to be considered, as the book of words says:  “Better to reach the far end at taxi speed……..then to undershoot into the near side hedge at flight speed.”

At around 500ft, staying legal, the practice will be called off and a verdict of whether we’d have made it or not given.  It’s probably ironic that aircraft have some of the toughest design & production certification requirements of any industry – but you won’t find any air bags or crumple zones here, they’re designed for high probability of safety in the air, not crashing into a fence.

Well that’s the general theory…..

Next lesson we’ll see how it turns out in practice 🙂

Extra 200 & The Weather

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Permalink

G-GLOC in climb

G-GLOC in climb

Not having much luck with this plane at the moment, from it’s engine not starting, to it having a flat tyre and then bad weather.

It doesn’t seem to like me much.

Having recently had a few days off work I thought I’d have another go at getting up in it, but it was still not to be, two days of terrible fog and a cloud base of 200ft at its worst, forget doing aerobatics 🙁

We’ll keep trying though, all good things…..


Lesson 35: Advanced Turns

Monday, November 19th, 2012 | Permalink

The first words ever posted on this blog were:  “It’s going to be about flying and nothing but flying…”   The opening lines of the ‘about page’ at the time, setting the scene for:   “Why document it all anyway?”  ……and also a subtle hint that, as you might have noticed, I don’t name instructors.   That was always intentional for two reasons:  I was conscious from the get go that it’s not fun to find your name randomly on web pages and secondly a lot of what gets written up is subjective afterthought with lots of scope for error.   Why bring it up now?

This lesson ended with that slightly awkward moment, I’ve seen other blogs go through:

So are you still writing that blog then?

Busted…….it was inevitable, I’ve mentioned the aircraft names in every post (they can’t sue me for libel) and recently I was conscious of using the airports name and photographs more and more, it was getting easier and easier to stumble upon and be able to connect the dots.

Still, if you come away with any impression other than the club and instructors there are all fantastic – you’re on the wrong blog.   Fingers crossed my bad lessons grumble more at myself then anyone else, to enjoy the highs you must experience the lows….

Back in good old Whiskey Kilo :  Low Fuel



With a general lack of AVGAS at the airport, this lesson would be done in G-SHWK, it’s only been a few weeks apart, but I miss flying it 🙂

After a short discussion on the lesson and a general summary of lesson background theory and objectives:

  • Steep Turns (45 Degrees)
  • Collision Avoidance
  • Stalling/Recovery during a Steep Turn
  • Demo of a Practice Forced Landing

Actually ‘collision avoidance’ was more of a rationale for the need to do a steep turn. Finding a reason to do one (other than because they’re fun) was something I actually faffed around trying to find…..avoiding hitting something, so obvious!  :-\

On with the plane checkout.

Upon turning the master switch on, the fuel gauges read “5 gallons Left, ~10 gallons Right.”   That’s as low as I’ve ever seen (except for when they didn’t respond at all) and at that moment I was pondering going back and checking we were still taking this plane…….bit of quick math (~15 gallons in the tank, ~10 gallons/hour fuel consumption:   1 hour lesson + 30 minutes reserve).   Doable, I’d crack on and see if it was all in vain later.

The dip stick confirmed the fuel gauges could be believed.

Cleared for Immediate Take Off

Another one of those bizarre moments upon lining up for departure (why I find it bizarre I’ve no idea, but it is…).   Having called ‘ready for departure’, air traffic replied asking if we could accept an immediate clearance – we could, upon rolling on to the runway the plane on final approach made its radio call and I realised I knew the pilot…… if I didn’t get out of the way sharpish and forced a go around, I wasn’t going to hear the end of it.   Full power!!!

A tip from my instructor that if ATC ask if we can accept an immediate clearance, we can just start rolling and accept as we go, rather than confirm we could, then get offered, then accept and get going.   Arguably the latter is more procedurally correct (otherwise you’re moving, potentially on to the ‘Landing Area’, without actually having a clearance to do so).   The counter argument would be one of inference…..Debate amongst yourselves, I do as I’m told 🙂

Once in the climb, looking down and left I realised I could see the runway, we were getting pushed right by the wind.  An average attempt to compensate followed.

Commencing a 20 degree climbing turn to the right, it was just a matter of time before Air Traffic would ask us to switch frequencies.

More R/T errors and Brain Stalling

A lot of time has been spent pondering the mental stall from last lesson, so I was hoping to avoid it.  It’s sort of strange that in the last 10 months, it’s only in the last 2-3 lessons that I’ve had to switch frequencies.

The call to actually switch frequencies went ok, it went wrong when I called Approach and they called back the QNH (pressure setting for measuring altitude above sea level), that for no obvious reason threw me completely…….maybe they said QNH 1011 and I didn’t hear the QNH, maybe they didn’t say QNH, all I know is I just heard “1011” – for which I found myself thinking “what?  what’s that?”

I’ve got to get over this locking up issue, it’s at risk of becoming a bigger headache then my previous obsessive desire to fly on instruments.

Steep Turns

After a couple of steep turn demos, executed with zero change in altitude (a tough act to follow!), it was time for me to have a go.

First a 180, 45 degree banking turn to the right.

It went pretty well, from my memory of the dials it was completed with +90ft (apparently the limit is +/-150ft, so not bad for my first go).

Followed by the same thing to the left (to prove it wasn’t a fluke), it wasn’t quite as good but still within limits.

Collision Avoidance Turns

Essentially the same maneuver, but without any of the smoothness in entering the turn/applying power etc.   Just roll straight into it as if your life depended on it…….compared to the steep turns I’ve done in the Extra this was still a very civilised affair, but a bit more aggressive in motion then the first two.

Stalling in a Steep Turn

Before any stall there is a HASELL check (Height, Airframe, Engine, Location, Lookout).  Normally the lookout is a 360 degree turn at 30 degrees of bank, as we were up here to do steep turns, why not do a steep turn orbit.   The longer you’re in the turn the harder it is to keep everything in check, it wasn’t my best orbit, but it wasn’t too bad.

When asked what the first thing to do to recover was?  I answered “roll the wings level” …..Wrong.  In hindsight I have flash backs to being told this is what people tend to do automatically when in a wing drop stall, the correct action is to actually push the control column forward and get airspeed first.   Ahhh the stuff not yet engraved in my brain…..

After a quick demo and noting that it’s actually quite hard to stall in such a tight turn, it was time for me to have a go.

You learn faster from your mistakes so at least running through the “what are you going to do” meant it went smoothly on the practical (lets  all now forget the answers given in the theory shall we).

Demo of a Practice Forced Landing

Nothing quite makes you want to come back for more, like seeing what you’ll be doing/attempting next.

Time to see a practice forced landing, albeit one executed more calmly and with seemingly much more time then it would feel if I was attempting it.   Picking a brown field and gliding down, warming the engine every 1000ft, to around 700ft before finally calling it off.   It always amazes me how calm and almost relaxing it is to be in a plane with essentially no power gliding to the ground……strange (perhaps I have blind faith in the engine restarting).

My glide approaches in the past had a tendency to undershoot, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

Returning home

The fuel warning annunciator was flashing low fuel, the gauges were saying roughly zero in a turn 🙁    and about 5 gallons in straight and level……..time to run for home.

A bit of a practice run with my instructor for the radio calls, this might actually go half decent for once.

…..and the hand over back to the tower went fine, all well until they asked how we wanted to rejoin.   Good question.   I’ve only ever done overhead joins, they had to be awkward and give me options 🙂

Descending back into the circuit via a crosswind rejoin, dropping a touch low and then going a touch high (+/-100ft of circuit height), it was an average circuit.

Crosswind Landing

The turn on to final was late, resulting in an overshoot leaving us right of the approach.   This needed to be corrected for while flying into a crosswind.   Historically my crosswind landings have been bordering rubbish, only recently have they started to touchdown without an almighty thud.

I can actually remember flying the approach pondering what I was doing……..yes we were staying straight, but it was a half crabbed, half rolled approach to keep it that way and noting previous lessons afterthoughts of It goes wrong because I’m not reacting fast enough, this approach had a ton of input.

Just above the runway I mentally reminded myself to stop looking at the asphalt and look along the runway, applying a bit more back pressure we touched down almost as smooth as I’ve ever landed.   The technique for getting down might have been debatable, but the landing was one of my better ones……and if you want to walk away from a lesson happy, it’s all about that touch down.


Seemingly some good points, turns were in limits etc.   then a note on the approach technique and that it basically wasn’t right, the result was one wing kept lifting and this probably played into why there was a ton of input to keep it looking reasonable.   But I got it kicked straight just before we landed and the landing itself was alright 🙂

We can refine the technique getting down, compared to my early crosswind attempts, I’ll take that landing any day of the week 🙂


Flights Cancelled by Wind & Cloud

Sunday, November 4th, 2012 | Permalink

Recently I’ve lapsed on my general rule of booking 33% more lessons then I actually want or can technically make, it’s just been a busy few weeks and actually it’d been a pretty good run without a cancellation……but it couldn’t run forever.

So a couple of weekends back it was 25-35 knot gusting wind, scratching that lesson.

This weekend I was booked in for some less ‘sensible’ flying in the Extra 200, that was looking good all morning, but upon arrival to the aero club the Met Office had other ideas and within ten minutes wiped 2,000ft off the cloud base 🙁     What I really wanted to do with this session was some spinning, so for that we’d need a good few thousand feet, with the clouds down at 1,800 it was never going to happen.

So a couple of weeks of cancellations, but we’ll try again in a few days.   A couple of hours of blue sky can’t be too much to ask for can it?