Lesson 3. Climbing – 8.00am, 3 July 2004

There was a bit of cloud around my house, but the airport seemed to be in the bottom of a patch of totally clear blue sky. The wind at ground level was negligible and I arrived at the Aero Club before Ryan did. As we had done the briefing the week previously, Ryan got me to do the pre-flight on my own (I didn’t do too badly, I only didn’t remember where the fuel drain for the engine is and then I banged my head on the prop – some pilot huh?). This time I was to fly ZK-ETA (one of the clubs favourite 172’s – and of the two I have flown it’s the one I prefer, for some reason it is easier to fly than ZK-JAF). We had 90 litres of fuel, and with a burn rate of 35 litres an hour in the C 172 that meant a little over two hours flight time, which was more than enough for a 30 minute flight.

Did the pre-start checks (which I had forgotten as well – time to start reading the flight manual again!!) and after engine start I had my second first of the day, I got to report in to ATC. We made a bit of a hash of the taxi to the warmup area because neither Ryan nor I could see very well but we made it there after a fashion and went through the run up checks properly with Ryan calling them out and me doing them. Then I got to radio ATC again and announce us ready for departure and then I completely misheard the ATC reply and had no idea where we were supposed to take off from. The taxi to the take off position didn’t go too badly, although I must remember that you have to add opposite rudder to straighten the nosewheel (it’s totally unlike driving a car). Then the pre-take off checks (transponder to alt, 10 degrees flap, compass and heading instruments calibrated, elevator trim at take off setting) which went smoothly and then Ryan gave me a bit of a helping hand with some right rudder trim to help me in the take off, which went better than the last one but I still track left a bit.

Once airborne I have a nasty habit (well I’ve only done it twice but I’ve done it both times) of climbing too rapidly and I had to bring the nose down so the aircraft could pick up speed. Once the aircraft started to accelerate in the climb we did the post take off checks (flaps to zero degrees, landing light off) and I held her as we were going to climb to 2000 feet before levelling out.

One of the things I’ve learnt which I think is a really good idea to get yourself into the swing of things to repeat back to the instructor your instructions as not only does it crystallise your objective in your thinking but the instructor knows what the heck you are trying to do with the airplane.

The first straight and level transition wasn’t too flash, I ended up at 2100 feet (about the maximum a learner like me is allowed) and even then I hadn’t trimmed the aircraft correctly and had slightly too much power on (you can overspeed the prop which is a big no no). Then it was descent time to 1000 feet which Ryan did and I followed his workings (carb heat on, power down to 2100rpm) and lower the nose into a cruise descent. Then from there a straight and level transition (power to 2300rpm, nose up, trim) which I did fairly well, then straight into a climb to 1500 feet (max power, nose up, trim) which quickly went past 1500 feet so he said 2000 feet and I was a bit low this time when I transitioned into straight and level. Notice how this sounds very much like my last lesson? That’s because they are related and flow into each other.

Where were we? Time for a turn. Ryan let me turn the aircraft around to stay in the training area and we headed off towards Mt Pirongia ((west of the airfield) don’t worry, we were never going to hit it). Then another descent to 1000 feet and a climb back to 2000 and it was time to turn again (I nailed one of the straight and levels but I can’t remember which one). Then another turn towards Ngaruawahia (north of Hamilton) this time and I decide to bring on 30 degrees of bank (what’s interesting is that once an aircraft is trimmed in level flight turns are real easy) and bring her around smartly. Ryan didn’t bat an eyelid and I loved it (I like turns because you have to do a lot of looking out the window instead of monitoring your altitude and instruments). Then another descent and climb and then because I was extra good this lesson we did a descending turn where Ryan trimmed the aircraft for a slow descent and I steered us back towards the airport.

One thing which was readily apparent up there was the tremendous wind speed (at 2000 feet you could see the aircraft track on a heading about 15 degrees down wind of where the nose was pointed when we were flying across wind. I commented on this to Ryan and he pointed to where we were actually going.

Ryan reported into ATC and requested joining instructions and we were told to join to base for runway 36 and land on the tarmac as recent rain had closed all the grass strips to landing aircraft. We flew quite a deep base leg as this was going to be a downwind approach and the wind at 1200 feet was quite strong (we picked up a bit of chop coming through the finals turn). Ryan then declared that I was going to fly the landing (only this time I was mentally prepared for his surprise and didn’t let it get to me). Its funny getting a lesson on how to stay alive by landing well when the runway is rapidly getting bigger in front of you and you have a slight crosswind to deal with (actually it was more than slight). I lined us up on short finals bang on but we kept drifting to the right, at which Ryan told me to pick a point on the runway and hold that picture. What was amazing was that once we were over the threshold at just under 100 feet from the ground the crosswind died completely and I straightened the aircraft up, rounded out and slowly brought the nose up and we touched down. Ryan gave me a compliment for the first time in 1.2 hours of flying together when he said “not bad for your first landing Euan.” I wasn’t going to win any precision flying awards but I got us and ZK-ETA down in one piece. The great thing was I got to concentrate on stick and rudder while Ryan trimmed the aircraft for landing, I can only imagine the pilot workload flying solo (so much to remember).

My taxiing back was OK (although you have to pull back on the controls to keep the weight off the nosewheel going into wind) but Ryan lined us up after deciding we didn’t need to stop for gas. Then the shutdown check, engine to idle and mixture to max lean to kill the engine. Lesson 3 was over.

On the walk back I commented to Ryan about the wind and he said it was quite normal for the wind at ground to be still while it rages a couple of thousand feet up, especially in the morning. You get some interesting cloud formations as cloud is caught in the still, dense air at low altitude and it sort of does a vertical eddy, collecting in patches at around 1000 feet AGL. Fortunately we didn’t have to fly through it (actually we are not allowed to) but it looked quite interesting from the air.

As a footnote, I gave them my Medical Certificate and they have logged it into their database so they know I am cleared for solo flight medically. I have also given them NZ$5000 to go on my account. This for me signifies my commitment to learning to fly and will buy me roughly 30 hours of flight time. Next lesson will be in two weeks as next weekend I am in Rotorua for the rally).