Flight log

Hour 17: Preparing for solo

I am back in Camden after two weeks without flights due to bad weather. Davide will be helping me get in shape. I aim to practice circuits and determine if I am ready for my first solo flight. This has been the longest break between flights, and I feel rusty. Have I regressed? Can I continue where I left off two weeks ago?

Let's find out!

I am writing this two weeks after completing hour 17 of my training, but luckily have the the full video (which you can watch above).

As is evident in the video, I was rusty after two weeks of no flights due to bad weather at Camden.

But the interesting thing is that most of the problems were on the ground.

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Leaning the Mixture in a Cessna 172 Prior to Taxi

One of the most silly things I did while on the ground, was leaning the fuel mix as soon as the engine had started. You can read more about this in the Flight segment, but here I want to explain the purpose of mixture leaning, and how it's done.

Leaning the mixture in an aircraft like the Cessna 172 before taxiing serves several important purposes:

Engine Performance and Health:

Rich mixture at low RPMs (like during taxiing) can lead to fouling of spark plugs, which deteriorates engine performance and may cause difficulties in engine operations. Leaning prevents the build-up of unburned fuel in the engine, maintaining cleaner combustion and prolonging engine life.

Fuel Efficiency:

A rich mixture consumes more fuel. Leaning the mixture during ground operations, where full power is not required, conserves fuel. This is especially important in scenarios with extended ground operations or waiting times.

Carbon Deposits Reduction:

Operating with a rich mixture at low power settings can lead to excessive carbon deposits within the engine and on spark plugs. Leaning helps in reducing these carbon deposits, ensuring smoother engine performance and reducing maintenance needs.

Environmental Considerations:

Leaning the mixture reduces the amount of unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide emitted, making the operation slightly more environmentally friendly.

So how is mix leaning done? Here's how:

  1. Start Engine with Full Rich Mixture: Initially start the engine with a full rich mixture to ensure proper start-up and initial operation.
  2. Adjust Mixture After Engine Start: Once the engine is running and stable, gradually lean the mixture. This should be done before beginning the taxi to ensure the engine is running efficiently at lower power settings.
  3. Monitor Engine Parameters: While leaning, monitor engine RPM and temperature gauges. A slight increase in RPMs can indicate an optimal mixture setting for taxi. When you notice that RPMs begin dropping, you know you have the optimal lean setting.
  4. Avoid Over-Leaning: Be cautious not to lean too much, as this could cause the engine to run too hot or even stop. I have caused the engine to stop once doing this.

Leaning the mixture in a Cessna 172 prior to taxi is a practice that enhances engine performance, improves fuel efficiency, reduces maintenance issues due to spark plug fouling and carbon deposits, and is better for the environment. It's a key part of managing a piston engine aircraft efficiently and is an important skill for pilots to master.

English test

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) in Australia mandates that student pilots demonstrate satisfactory English language proficiency before undertaking their first solo flight. This requirement ensures that pilots can effectively communicate in English, which is the international language of aviation.

This test assesses the student’s ability to understand and communicate effectively in English, particularly in aviation-related scenarios.

The test consists of these components:

  1. Listening Comprehension: Understanding spoken English in various accents, particularly in the context of aviation communications.
  2. Speaking Ability: Proficiency in speaking English clearly and accurately, especially using aviation terminology.
  3. Reading Comprehension: Ability to read and comprehend English text, including aviation manuals, instructions, and notices.
  4. Writing Skills: Competence in writing English relevant to aviation contexts, like filling out flight plans or logs.

The test must be administered by a CASA-approved examiner or an authorized English language assessor, and on passing the test, the student receives an English language proficiency endorsement.

Steve, a qualified instructor at Altocap, administered the test after today's flight. The entire test was audio-recorded, with the recording stored as evidence in case CASA wants to audit.

Steve had a conversation with me about aviation, asked me to read a couple of paragraphs from an aviation book, and got me to listen to a few exchanges between a pilot and an ATC. The exchanges were typical of such communications, and my task was to understand them, take notes, and answer relevant questions.

All up, this test lasted for around 45 minutes, and in the end, I had an English language proficiency certificate that would never expire. This was the last exam I had to pass before getting my solo flight endorsement.

Weather 

Unlike the last couple of weeks, the weather today was excellent.

Here's what BOM shows for the day:

No complaints about the weather on the 7th.

For this morning's flight, ATIS reported this:

Runway in use 06, variable wind 3 kt, occasional tail wind 3 kt, CAVOK, temperature 16°C, QNH 1023, Information Alpha.

The flight

I will discuss what happened on the ground instead of what happened after take off. You can see Davide's notes to the right in the image. 

I did a lot of "strange" things, such as spending several minutes leaning the mix before taxi, only to undo all this work in an instant by pushing the mixture knob into full rich. Why? After two weeks without a flight, I could remember Greg doing something like this, but I could not remember why (I provide more information about why and how to lean the fuel mix during taxi above).

Greg showed me how to lean the mix before taxiing in previous lessons. Today, I tried to imitate Greg’s process but did not do it at the appropriate time (just before taxi) because I did not understand why this was needed. (again, read the details above if you are interested). I started leaning the mix as soon as the engine started! When I look at the video, I actually laugh at myself for doing this pointless activity. Even though I had not flown for a couple of weeks, I should have realized the futility of this.

Unfortunately, there's more.

The most important failure was when Camden Ground issued a notice to all stations (i.e., aircraft in the control area) with a new weather (ATIS) report. The controller announced increased variable wind at 8 knots, which I completely missed as I concentrated on taxing. Just like in the air, I should have been listening to the radio on the ground. I think I missed this transmission because it was addressed to "all stations" instead of "JBC", which I am used to responding to. Still, this was weathe information that was significant, and I should have picked it.

But wait, there's more. Here's the list:

  • After listening to the ATIS, I turned off the avionics and electricals master switch, not realising that I would call ATC to request clearance to start. Turning electricals on and off is a waste of battery power and stresses out the equipment, so it should be avoided. Again, I have to think ahead of the plane.
  • I did not call out "clear prop" before starting the engine.
  • I did not check to confirm that oil pressure was in the green within 30 seconds of starting the engine, as required by the checklist.
  • My safety briefing was not standard. This is not something I have practised, and usually, I put something together on the fly. Davide said he would give me a sample to work with. You can see the sample in Hour 20
  • In the runup bay, I did not calibrate the directional indicator.
  • At the holding point, I called "... ready for take-off" instead of the correct "... ready for circuits".

There is a lot to improve on the ground. This should be easy to deal with with a bit more care during the checklists.

There were a few issues to mention in the air. Specifically:

  • Controlling altitude downwind is still not good enough.
  • I must improve lookouts and always do them BEFORE turning.
  • My final tends to be high.
  • Sometimes, I let the airspeed drop too low on the final, even below 70 kt.

I'm confident I'll solve these issues in the next 2-3 flights.

Unfortunately, the wind picked up quickly, with crosswind becoming 12 kt. With that, today's flight was over.

Hour 17 instructor review

Here is Davide's review (Hour 17):

Revise startup procedures, ensure checklist is used correctly. No clear prop before key was turned, leaned after start then richened to full rich immediately after start with no oil pressure check. ATIS changed to Bravo during taxi, not acknowledged by student. T/O safety briefing and departure briefing non-standard, discussed in debrief. DI unaligned (30 degrees off), prompted by instructor to fix. "Ready for takeoff" at holding point rather than "ready for circuits". Lookouts must be conducted before every turn, instructor prompted lookouts multiple times. Radio call and BUMFISH good. Control and base and final generally good however a few circuits were a little unstable. Flare ok but slightly inconsistent, sometimes too much backpressure sometimes not enough backpressure. Wind increased to 12KTS crosswind and lesson ended early.

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Shorter and narrated video for Hour 17.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 17.

Davide's debrief.

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Hour 27: My second solo!
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