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Apr 15

Flight 10: PAO-PAO

1.00pm Sunday 4/12 (1.3 hours) – 2407N – Winds 3kts – Sky Clear – Visibility 30 SM – 25°C

After a false start earlier this week, Spring seems to be in full swing and the METAR for Palo Alto was showing near perfect conditions. A light 3 knot wind, 25 degrees, and a clear sky.  I usually fly 501SC or 824LB, but one of those had been grounded for some maintenance issue and the other was booked, so I had 2407N today.  I’ve gotten my preflighting down to about 15-20 minutes and the routine is slowly beginning to stick in my mind.

John turned up at 1.30pm.  I did a few of the radio calls, but I’m still having trouble hearing ATC and remembering what they say when they shoot off a whole list of information in about 3 seconds.  The climb out was slightly turbulent – John mentioned it was due to a temperature inversion.  A 3 knot wind near ground level colliding with a 14 knot wind at a higher altitude made for a choppy transition.  Once we were above 2500 feet, though, the ride smoothed out.

Out by the coastal area, John asked me to do a transition to slow flight, which I hadn’t been expecting for this lesson, but after a few seconds of hesitation, the procedure came back to me.  I was rushing the pitch up a bit too much at the start instead of waiting for airspeed to start falling past Vg, thereby gaining too much altitude.  It probably was the warmer weather, but the stall speed of 47 knots I was used to was not the stall speed today, so I was holding the speed at 47 quite steadily feeling a little proud of myself when John said, “I don’t hear the stall horn.” Which was reinforcement that stall is a function of angle of attack – not airspeed, and today the first indication of stall angle was at a slower airspeed.

Next up, John made me do a few steep turns.  I was having trouble getting the right “picture” out of the windscreen and lost 200 feet on my first attempt.  I had a tendency to let the nose dip and would have to wrench back on the yoke, creating a sinking roller coaster feeling.  I had a couple more attempts which were better, but still subpar.  I also needed better speed control entering into the turn – 95 knots and stabilized flight.

Next we practiced the approach to landing stall.  It was ok.

As we were climbing back up to 4500 feet, John yanked out the throttle.  Engine failure.  I started to run through the checklist calmly.  A little too calmly.  I needed to have the initial response done in a 10 second burst – turn away from bad terrain while pitching for glide speed. 7-up flow. Then identify a good landing spot. I picked a nearby field while completely ignoring Half Moon Bay airport which was borderline in range. It might have been more comfortably in range had I pitched for glide speed quicker.

“Have you landed at Half Moon Bay yet?” John asked. I said no, and he dialed it into the GPS. Then he changed his mind since the winds weren’t to his liking. He yanked out the throttle again.

I made another attempt at a steep turn and the last one turned out pretty decently.

It was then time to head home, and by that time we had moved North up the coast more than we usually did.  I’m normally quite decent with spatial awareness around the Bay Area – my favorite seat on commercial flights is by the window and I have flown over the Bay Area countless times. However, today I managed to mistake the San Mateo bridge for the Dumbarton bridge.  John made me feel better when he recounted that on one of his first solos he mistook SFO for SQL, and only realized it when a 747 flew overhead!  (Though for some reason, I was having trouble picking out traffic today as well.)

Weekends are busy around PAO so we worked into the traffic pattern.  I sorted out flying the landing pattern pretty well when there’s no one ahead of me, but when I’m second, third or fourth for landing and need to extend downwind, I’m still at a bit of a loss about how to set flaps and power.  It’s much easier on the early morning weekday flights when the airspace is pretty quiet.

I did two unassisted landings which came down a little hard (need to flare up a bit more at the end when I see the ground rushing up), but at least now I have 4 of them under my belt.

Back on the ground, we spent a few minutes talking about inoperative equipment and minimunm equipment lists. He asked me to walk him through the regs and I had barely gotten a couple sentences out when he said, “Even the lawyer gets it wrong!” (Which I maintain I didn’t really… he just didn’t let me finish.)

It was still a nice day and I had a little time to burn, so after seeing a Quora post about the nearby Duck Pond being a good place to watch planes coming into land, I drove over, dialed in PAO Tower on my iPhone and watched planes take off and landing.  I’m starting to get the hang of the range of radio calls that PAO Tower makes, but this is probably going to be the biggest struggle for me.  I’m the sort of person who finds it difficult to talk and drive at the same time when too many things are happening on the road… and this is after having 15 years of driving experience.

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