Lesson 4. Descending 25 July 2004

The last lesson in my starter pack. Now for the first time I had the opportunity for a Sunday lesson on a lovely bright and calm afternoon. The down side was that it coincided on the day of the monthly competition. The day was an absolute stunner. I arrived at the airport to see ZK-ETA take off for what I was later told was a short trip to Rotorua and back. Ryan did the briefing and we went over the lesson which I already was quite aware of having absorbed it by reading and re-reading the manual. After that we sat around while the clubrooms were busy with people coming and going after the clubs working bee and other pilots dropping in for a flying visit (literally!). Ryan then said we were going to take JAF and I should begin the pre-flight. It was while I was up top checking the tanks that ETA reappeared on finals to runway 18 and taxied in. Ryan said we’d stick with JAF and I completed the pre-flight. I nailed the pre-start checks and got the engine going and taxied out quite nicely. Now I had tried hard to properly memorise the run up and pre take off checks but I couldn’t remember them at the time.

Again, the take off was messy. Once airborne, I had the nose up too high and the plane was not gaining airspeed. For some reason JAF’s rudder controls and I don’t like each other very much and I was having problems keeping everything in check. My first climb to altitude was a shocker. Ryan asked for 2500 feet and by the time I had the trim and power set to straight and level we were at about 2650 feet. That’s too high so I lowered the nose a bit and let us descend to 2500. Then it was a glide descent to 1500 feet. That means, carb heat to hot (something new to think about), power to idle and pull back on the controls to keep the plane level and trim to maintain 65 knots in the descent. At about 200 feet from designated altitude, push carb heat to cold, steady the controls and give the trim wheel about 3 good twists of nose down trim to bring it back to about the middle mark (or take off trim position). Then feed the power in and hold the nose on the altitude you want while airspeed increases. Fairly simple written down, but you try doing it in the real thing. And they say the Cessna is an easy to handle plane! I wonder how the military guys do it in planes 10 times as powerful and twice as belligerent to handle. We did some more of climbs and descents, and once again, later in the piece I did something that resembled a passable descent. All too soon it was time to return to the airport and this time we going to land on Grass 18. During this time there were other planes in the area although I never saw them we could hear their radio chatter. We turned to final quite late doing a right base to final (usually the airport circuit is left hand) and set up for the approach. We had to apply a smidgeon of power which got me a word of approval from Ryan as I judged it spot on. Then he ran through the landing checks with me as we went to full flap, landing light on, carb heat to cold, gear down and locked (not a problem in a Cessna 172 but they teach it to you so you don’t forget when you are in a retractable gear equipped aircraft). My first landing on grass (the other two were on tarmac), I think we came in a bit fast and a little high, I did the round out a bit too high and when we settled on the ground we were about halfway down the runway and we didn’t pull up in time for the nearest taxiway (despite my remembering to put the brakes on and hold the control column fully back for extra drag). Ryan took over and spun us around and I taxied us back to the Aero Club. Ryan said I could taxi a little faster (but you would taxi slowly if you were in a vehicle that costs as much as your house).

I was hanging out that afternoon at the club chatting ot the pilots when one of the full time students, a really nice Islander guy called Samson offered me a quick jaunt out over Hamilton. I went along for the ride. Samson has about 160 hours and a PPL who is on his way to a CPL with a multi engine and instrument rating. He flies the plane like it is on rails and it was a eye opening experience observing how it is done right by another student (all of the instructors have over 1000 hours in their log book). The flight was so smooth it made my efforts look feeble. I know after watching his razor sharp handling of the aircraft (he had it in near perfect trim at all times and was flying with only a couple of fingers on the controls). What I enjoyed almost as much as buzzing our house, the University and Waikato Stadium was the circuits. We did two before landing and the first one was bang on, with the stall warning horn buzzing as we held off before lightly touching down. I think Samson wanted to teach me what a poor approach is like because we came in low and he ‘went around’ I noticed this but I didn’t say anything but what did occur to me was the ‘picture’ the instructors talk about was wrong. What was also very good was that when Samson decided to go around, he did not hesitate for a second (a definite lesson learnt there). The third to land Samson nailed the approach, put us down a little bumpily (we landed on Grass 08 – something I haven’t done since I did my first trial flight 4 years ago). All in all, a fantastic day for flying and plenty of lessons learned.