Finals three greens

I had all but given up on flying this morning. I got out of bed and looked out the window, and a murky dull grey sky greeted me. It was also quite windy which was fairly unusual for this time of year.

Resigning myself to the fact that my first lesson in the Piper Arrow would be a ground lesson, I sleepily plodded my way through several pieces of toast and after packing my flight bag together I jumped in the car and off I went. On the way to the airport the weather seemed to have the final say on the matter by shedding droplets on my windscreen.

Once I arrived at the Aero Club, I counted all the clubs planes sitting miserably on the flightline, with tie downs secured and covers on. I was wondering if this was one of those days which corresponded to that age old adage, “better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air rather than in the air wishing you were on the ground.”

After presenting myself to Wendy who was minding the office, the clubs 2IC B Cat Ash strode out of the inner sanctum of the club where instructors hide from voracious students and after wincing at the outside picture picked up the hand held radio and tuned into the ATIS.

“Hamilton information Delta, issued at 2123, expect VOR/DME approach, runway 36,”

Not exactly an auspicious start, but the thick layer of overcast hanging overhead would make a visual approach kind of difficult.

“Runway conditions, damp. Surface wind, 040 degrees, 12 knots. Visibility, 25km reducing to 1000m, showers in the vicinity.”

Oh great, even if we can take off, I have my first take off in an Arrow with a crosswind to contend with. I was already feeling better… not.

“Cloud, few 2200 feet, scattered 3400 feet, broken 4400 feet, temperature 18 dew point 15, QNH 1020. Forecast 2000 foot wind, 060 degrees, 35 knots. On first contact with Hamilton Tower or Christchurch control, notify in receipt of Delta.”

So the cloud wasn’t a problem, neither was the visibility (unless we hit a shower). The problem would be the 25 knot sheer zone that we could expect to hit on the climb out. Fun fun fun!

Ash sniffed, turned the radio off and said he was happy for us to go out. I resisted the urge to ask him if he had heard the same ATIS I had.

On the walk out to the hangar that houses DQV, which unlike most other aircraft in the club fleet is permanently hangared and is not owned by the club (the Twin Comanche the club uses is similarly owned and stored), Ash asked me about how many Archer hours I had. I said roughly 30 hours (check of my logbook says I have 26 hours total time in Archers, 20.1 as PIC).

I won’t bore you with the specifics of the preflight, but the additional necessity of crawling under each wing and under the nose to inspect the gear wells could become trying as you are guaranteed to get dirty doing it. Good thing I wore my jacket which I could remove prior to taking my seat.

The inside appears pretty much as a Piper Archer’s which I am used to, with the exception that as this aircraft is older (about 6-8 years older I think) that the clubs Archer 2’s, there are some notable differences. First is the lack of an avionics master switch, so each unit in the stack needs to be turned on individually. Potentially annoying, but for those of us whole like to act like astronauts and press lots of buttons and switches its pure nirvana.

Unlike our Archer fleet the Arrow is fuel injected, and just like fuel injected aircraft, this is both a blessing and a curse. No carb heat equates to one less lever to worry about when you are on short finals. But this particular model of Arrow is prone to flooding between hot starts. While this is not too much of issue, I can see the instructors pulling their hair out while watching some hapless student endlessly crank the starter over outside the clubrooms by the fuel pumps.

After we got DQV out and received our taxiing instructions, Ash kept referring to how nose heavy the Arrow is compared with an Archer. In the air that would be the main difference he told me.

During the runups I got to exercise the prop. Check prop pitch is full fine, then throttle up to 2000rpm. Ash had me put my left thumb under the prop lever then bring the lever back until I see the rpm drop 300rpm. Then keeping my thumb where it is, move the prop lever back up to full fine, then down to my thumb and back again. At the risk of being too technical, exercising the prop pumps warm oil into the linkages which control the rpm of the prop during flight. If a large temperature differential exists between the oil in the constant speed unit (CSU) and the engine sump you run the risk of the CSU malfunctioning or even not working at all. While the prop won’t stop, it almost certainly won’t be producing full thrust, and that’s a big problem if you need it.

After lining up, I went through the lineup checks and we waited a while due to wake turbulence from a departing Dash 8. I silently thanked the owner for installing an air switch and after receiving clearance to take off, I opened the throttle.

The litany of checks ran through my head, “throttle slowly forward, check manifold pressure increasing, check prop rpm increasing, check fuel flow increasing, check that we are tracking straight,” which we were not. “Damn crosswind takeoff.”

“Airborne finally. Keep the nose low, we need to climb at a speed higher than the best glide of 91 knots. Heck that’s quite a low nose attitude. OK we are out of sufficient runway, so gear up.” I had thought weeks earlier that raising the gear during my first left seat flight in DQV would be a proud moment, but with a handful of aircraft and a head full of endless checklists it came and went without my giving it much more thought than “ok that’s done, what’s the next thing for me to do?”

Ash was a calm spot in the maelstrom, casually telling me to set the manifold pressure to 25 inches of mercury, the prop rpm to 2500rpm and lean it to 13 gallons per hour fuel burn, aka climb power settings.

We had just turned crosswind when there was an almighty thump and I banged my head against the roof. Strangely enough I was not particularly worried. Maybe having Ash sitting next to me showing that detached air of calm all instructors have was infectious?

He made a comment about us finally hitting that sheer zone and asked me to continue to climb to 2000 feet. Once we got above 1700 feet the ride smoothed out and I started to relax a little. Ash was right, this aircraft did indeed handle like an Archer with a heavy nose, despite the Arrow having the older Cherokee slab wing (commonly called the Hershey Bar wing due to its resemblance to a bar of chocolate) which was also a shorter overall span. I was feeling the effects of the short wingspan as DQV had smoothed out most of the bumps quite nicely.

Once we had reported clear of the Hamilton control zone Ash said I could go through a couple of turns just to get a feel for DQV. He said the main difference was to not touch the throttle but my right hand kept snaking out and affixing itself to the throttle quadrant. A good habit to stay in if I’m going to be flying fixed pitch aircraft again, which is almost certain.

So I was told by lots of people including Ash that the Arrow has a heavy nose, and I found out when I entered a medium turn from a trimmed straight and level and the nose started dropping inside the turn to the point it took a great deal of strength to bring the nose up. When I tried a steep turn it was worse. I did think about trimming in the turn but when I tried doing that during my primary training I received a smack on the hand so I chose to sit there and hold it.

I rolled wings level and we did a basic stall followed by a power and flap stall. Just like an Archer they said. I can now confirm it is similar, except I enjoyed the clear warnings from the aircraft. There was a nice nibble from buffet followed by a touch of wallow then the nose broke straight down with a slight hint of a wing drop but nothing as violent as Cessna’s can be.

The stall recovery technique is just like any aircraft, stick and rudder to get the plane flying again, then pile on the power and regain lost height. I was guilty of not bringing power all the way forward on recovery. Too much reading about prop overspeeds and not enough confidence in constant speed units (a totally misguided notion, this technology has been proven in aerial combat and is over 60 years old).

Next we climbed to 2500 so I could have a forced landing demonstrated. As we were pretty much overhead Te Kowhai airstrip, Ash decided that would be a good spot to do a forced landing and after I made a radio call stating I would be operating at the strip he pulled back the manifold pressure and we were gliding.

Well if you could call it gliding. The VSI (vertical speed indicator) quivered down to show a 900 feet per minute descent as I struggled to find and maintain the 91 knot nose attitude. All those forced landing checks went out the window as I concentrated on the first rule of aviation, fly the plane. Ash wanted to demonstrate the gliding differences between gear up and down so he had me lower the gear. The VSI plummeted to read a 1400 feet per minute descent, I could see we needed to get to the field asap so I aimed at the landing point and hoped we had enough height to make it. The main thing to remember with forced landings in a retractable is that one of the decisions a pilot must make is should he or she lower the gear at all, and if so, when is a good time to do it. Short finals means the gear will not be down in time so you need to pick your paddock quickly and have your approach sorted fast if you are going to lower the gear.

I remember we were fairly high on the base leg and I had resisted lowering flaps because I still did not have a feel for the glide characteristics yet and was erring on the side of caution. Ash told me to drop full flaps, mechanically I obeyed and at that precise moment we hit a patch of sink.

All that height I had stored disappeared in a few seconds and we came in over the fence pretty much like we would have had I made a powered approach. I rounded out, flared and touched down.

I went to full power, Ash reminded me to set flaps to 10 degrees, my eyes flicked to the ASI and when it showed 65 knots I rotated and we were airborne again.

We then went around the circuit a few times to get me used to the circuit procedures. Because DQV doesn’t climb like an Archer but you have a lot of checks to get through and you must climb at a speed faster than the Archer, Ash recommended a continuous climbing turn onto downwind from the climb out. I can see now why Air Forces fly those race course style circuits instead of the box types us GA pilots fly.

I recall one time I was bringing back the manifold pressure but was looking at the rpm gauge as I would in a fixed pitch plane so was wondering why it wasn’t changing at all. By the time I realized what I had done the manifold pressure was back at about 20 inches. A newbie mistake, but fortunately one which is not harmful to the aircraft so I quickly set the power and rpm and continued flying. Ash said nothing but I know he knew what I was doing.

After a few circuits Ash declared the next touch and go would be the last and we’d climb out and head back to Hamilton.

I set climb power and prop and was heading back to Temple View listening to the ATIS. The wind on the ground had intensified and the visibility had dropped even further. From the 5 nautical mile boundary at Temple View I could just and only just make out the Airport in the murk.

I requested joining instructions and we were cleared direct to the airfield to join left base for runway 36. I acknowledged and a moment later they asked us to keep the speed up as there was a Dash 8 incoming.

Ash grinned and admitted he was going to scold me for not setting cruise power but this time he would make an exception. I lowered the nose and set a 400 foot per minute descent that would get us to circuit height just as we entered base leg.

The ASI (air speed indicator) slowly crept up to 140 knots. Ash keyed his mike and said to ATC that we were doing our best but were fighting a headwind, the DME was indicating a groundspeed of only 77 knots. There would be some error in that reading as we were not flying directly at the DME transmitter but it was definitely eye opening to realize just how windy it was up there.

During the descent Ash and I were joking with each other as to when we would hit the shear layer. I reckoned about 1300 feet and Ash thought it would be lower. He won.

I remember turning final when ATC announced we had a 10 knot crosswind and cleared me to land. I thought my approach was pretty good. I had everything organized and we were coming down with a stable airspeed and more or less on centerline.

I think I tried to do a Cessna landing which the Arrow being quite a different beast decided it would have nothing to do with it. Abruptly it decided to stop flying on me and down we came. This time I was comfortable flying it and was far enough ahead of the plane to apply power to cushion the landing but we came down right mains left mains and nosewheel. I was rather disgusted with myself but Ash didn’t seem too phased so we taxied clear and set course for the hangar.

We were gone ninety minutes, but due to air-switching the hobbs read 0.8. As the Arrow is more expensive than the Archer to fly it was a similar cost but at least that was the flying part that I was paying for, not the sitting around on the ground with the prop turning. Fantastic!

Overall, I must admit I like flying the Arrow. For a humble private pilot with a modest budget it will be the closest I may ever get to flying a Spitfire. They are both all metal low wing monoplanes with retractable gear and constant speed propellers. OK so one has 7 times the horse power of the other but we can all dream.


Aaron Martin said…
Awesome I'm glad you finally got to have a flight in DQV
ZK-JPY said…
Sounds like you had lots of 'fun' :)

I'm looking forward to the step up to CSU's and suck-up wheels...

In the meantime, I might have to come down to the 'tron and get you to take me for a blat one day
Euan Kilgour said…
Sure thing Jarred, here's my work email in code to avoid the spambots as best we can:

echo uniform alpha november @ waikato dot alpha charlie dot november zulu