16 February 2010

The Logbook: .7-2.0 hours

This is the second in my Logbook series, chronicling my journey from earth-bound neanderthal to the much more evolved Homo Pilotus. You can read the first entry here.

Four days after my introduction flight, I was back at it. I arrived at the airport just a tad before my scheduled time, ready to hop in and go.

But I couldn't. Adam, my instructor, was there, but because I was the pilot, I was responsible for the pre-flight and getting the airplane ready. So the machine that I would spend most of my training in, N1353U, was still in the hangar, which is where Adam pointed me when I showed up.

"The light switches are on the wall over there. This button opens the hangar door. The checklist is in the pilot's door pouch. Come get me when you're done."

I didn't know what I was doing and said as much.

"You're the pilot. Follow the checklist." And he walked away.

I had only booked the airplane for an hour and a half, and had assumed that like my intro flight, the airplane would be sitting out ready to go. Lesson learned: get there in plenty of time to leave on schedule. For the rest of my training, I was there at least a half-hour before I had the airplane scheduled in order to have it ready to go.

After Adam walked me through my pre-flight inspection, we got ready and climbed in. This time, the information flew at me (literally!) fast and furious. Most of it went in one ear and out the other, I simply didn't have time to catch it all. Here's your checklist, do everything it says. Anticipate the turns on the ground, because there's an input lag. Don't do the engine run up here. Pay attention to your temperatures. Don't be looking at the gauges all the time, you need to look outside. Make sure your engine is running smoothly. How do we do that? Check the gauges. Don't cross that yellow line on the ground. Make sure you call on the radio. Don't do it right now, you need to listen if anyone else is here. Which runway are we using? Did you check the winds? Where is the windsock? Is your seat belt secure? Are the doors secure?

The last few items Adam called the WHATSL checklist. It was an extra checklist, and he made me complete it every flight before we taxied onto the runway.
W is winds. Double check the windsock for direction and speed.
H is heading. Make sure the magnetic compass and heading indicator are in agreement, and double check both of them with the runway heading as a rough accuracy check.
A is for altitude. Aircraft altimeters can change with atmospheric pressure changes, so it is important to set your altimeter to the field elevation, typically found in large letters somewhere visible like the side of a hangar or a sign near the ramp. If nothing else, you can find field elevation on your sectional map.
T is for transponder. An aircraft transponder is what communicates the aircraft's position and altitude to the air traffic controllers. There are different settings for different situations, and it is very important to have it set correctly before flight.
S is for safety. While it is possible to fly with the windows open, and while you can fly with a door unlatched, it is generally not recommended. So check them now, and while you're at it, make sure you and all your passengers are buckled in securely.
L is for lights. Daytime running lights on cars make good sense, and that good sense doesn't disappear when you're in the air. Make sure your position lights are on, and your nav lights are working, and while you're down low, below 2000 feet or so, put your landing light on too.

My head was spinning pretty fast already, and we weren't even in the air. We weren't even on the runway yet! And there was much more to come...

Adam handled the takeoff, allowing me to "fly", but I could feel his inputs, just like my first landing. That ended as soon as the wheels cleared the ground.

"You need to climb out straight. How do you do that?" He demanded.

"Uhhh...keep it straight?" I stammered. There was a way to do it, but apparently I was failing at it. It seemed obvious, so why was he asking me?

"You've got your heading indicator right there. You've got rudder pedals. Keep it lined up with the runway."

How do you do that? That's the trick. In an airplane, especially when climbing, there are no real good reference points to use looking outside. There are no white lines painted in the sky for you to follow. The reference point you were using, the runway, is directly behind you so you can't see it without a visit to the chiropractor. In order to climb straight out on the runway heading, you need to pay attention to your instruments, specifically your heading indicator. This is in addition to keeping an eye outside the airplane for traffic, birds, towers, etc.

This was my quick and rough introduction to the pilot's scan. Just like in a car, you cannot be looking inside all the time. You need to pay attention to what's happening outside the car. But you cannot devote all your attention outside the car, or you may miss vital information that the car itself is showing you on the tachometer, the speedometer, and other guages. The trick is to scan the instruments, in a car or airplane, taking in all that information in as little time as possible, so that you can be aware and attentive to the outside world.

In an airplane, there is much more information presented to you. The equipment is much more complex, and there is much more to do than simply steering. Therefore, it is extremely important to establish a good routine when scanning. A pilot must be able to take in the information presented on the instrument panel almost instantaneously, in order to turn his or her attention back to outside.

Much more than my introductory flight, this flight was my real first flight.  My instructor had laid my fragile, maleable matter onto the anvil, and had begun hammering and shaping.  It was a hammering that would continue every minute I was in the air up until the time I soloed.  When I landed this time around, I enjoyed the flight, but there was a quiet, concerned voice in the back of my head asking me just what had I gotten myself into.


1 comment:

bradley said...

I can't believe I haven't noticed your web link before. I'm looking forward to some reading. :D