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Things are Starting to Accelerate

If you followed this from the beginning, you’ll know that my original plan had been to take a 3 week vacation and do accelerated flight training. That didn’t work out, and I’m glad it didn’t: flying twice a week built up my hours quickly enough, and gave me some time between lessons to absorb what I’d learned, but even more importantly it gave me time to get comfortable with my skills and my fear along the way. I don’t think accelerated training would have been more than I could handle, but it definitely would have required me to manage and overcome more acute apprehension in the early phases.

That said, committing two two-a-weeks has moved me along pretty well. In fact, if I hadn’t lost a total of eight weeks along the way to 100-hour inspections, new avionics, freak February tornadoes and the occasional canceled flight for my instructor to go fly somebody in their jet, I’d be closing right in on 40 flight hours by now, which is the minimum to take the private pilot checkride. Flight training is expensive, but before I got started I made sure I had the money set aside and earmarked so that I wouldn’t have to stop midway for lack of funds. So I’m right at 20 hours right now, but it looks like things are about to accelerate.

I was supposed to fly yesterday, but the weather just didn’t cooperate. My instructor John was going to be running late and wasn’t sure if he’d make it in time. If it had been a pretty day, I’d have been allowed to fly solo instead, but all day long it was cold, overcast at 1500 feet, and a 10 knot crosswind gusting to 20, which is both well beyond what I’m supposed to take on flying solo right now (John’s endorsement in my log book limits me to 7 knot crosswinds) and well beyond what I’d have wanted to take on at my current skill level, endorsement or no.

So that meant that today I flew with John on an instructional flight for the first time since my two to-date solos. We introduced short field and soft field takeoffs and landings. Everything about short and soft field operations makes sense individually, but two techniques times takeoff and landing is four new maneuvers introduced all at once, so as usual it was a bit of a firehose.

On a soft field takeoff, you’re supposed to get the wheels off the ground and then accelerate in ground affect before climbing. That’s just naturally what would happen, so I hear, in an old 60hp machine from the 50s, but the Cheetah’s 150 horsepower means that it’s actually difficult to do that: by the time you’re off the ground, it’s also still gaining speed even while climbing and wanting to climb (successfully) out of ground effect, so you have to push forward on the stick and intentionally fly above the runway to demonstrate that you know the procedure, even though it’s not actually necessary or natural in that airplane. Seems a bit backward to me.

The wind was straight down the runway for most of today’s practice, until the very end when it was swirling so that it was straight down the runway on the far end and a direct crosswind down where the sock is (and where we were operating). It was gusting so that the stall horn kept blaring at us off and on during the short field takeoff, and as with accelerated stalls, the correct nose attitude in short field takeoff is much higher than I was expecting, and took a little getting used to. I only reached the correct attitude one time; I kept letting the nose lower to shut that horn up the other times. John explained that the attitude was correct and the horn was going off because of the gusts. I flew most of my short-fields a little nose-low because of that, to keep the horn from going off so and keep a little better margin in those gusts, and if John disagreed with me when I explained that, he didn’t argue.

My scorecard:

* One decent soft field takeoff for three attempts. The other two, I didn’t keep the plane in ground effect very well; on a cold day like today that Cheetah just wants to climb.
* Maybe one decent soft field landing for three attempts. I wasn’t very happy with any of them really.
* Two decent short field takeoffs for three attempts. Short field takeoff didn’t seem very challenging, you just have to get comfortable getting that nose attitude high.
* One decent short field landing for three attempts, but only just. The other two, I was too high or too fast and blew past the first taxi turnoff. I’m not sure that third one would have passed the checkride either, but it was maybe in the ballpark.

None of them were particularly great. I’ve got some practice to do. Encouragingly, my better attempts were my last attempt in all three cases, so that argues that some practice may bring quick improvements, rather than that they were random.

I mentioned before that I think things are about to accelerate. Weather permitting, next week I’ll do my first night flight and my first landing at another airport, and the week after that we have scheduled to do both my dual cross-country and my solo cross-country. If none of that gets canceled, then it’s a lot of practice and a lot of hours in a short period of time. Now that I can fly solo, I can fly and get some practice time in even if John can’t, as long as the weather is OK, and cross-countries build up hours fast. Things are moving.

One final note: while we were doing all that work, I noticed that somebody had parked a Cirrus over at the FBO, so had to go over and ogle it before I left the field. Haters will hate, but that is a nice airplane.

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