Flight log

Hour 18: Preparing for solo

It's Wednesday again, and I have two lessons scheduled. The first one (this) is hour 18, with Davide. The objective is to continue the work we started yesterday: to round out my rough edges ahead of a potential solo flight later in the day. I was also very keen not to do the silly things I did on the ground on Hour 17.

Full-length video for Hour 18.

What's happening today

Since Hour 15, each new flight could lead to my first solo. This morning's flight, Hour 18, is, perhaps, the last one before reaching this important milestone. It's only a day since my last flight, and all the issues that Davide discussed with me are still fresh in my mind. 

On my way to Camden, I revised all the usual (radio calls, BUMFISH, circuit speeds and altitudes, etc), and added the ground checklists. Up to now, I had neglected practicing those ground items because I considered them "easy". Since these items were done on the ground, reading from a checklist, how hard could they be? Still, I was proven wrong. It was easy to miss an item on the list.

I was also more keenly aware of the importance of constantly listening to the radio in the air and on the ground. As soon as avionics and headphones are on, anything that comes through the radio is potentially important. Yesterday, it was the change of weather conditions during taxi. In Hour 20 (feel free to peek ahead), it was a self-propelled lawn mower on the runway. 

The bottom line is that situational awareness happens by:

  1. Looking out the window.
  2. Scanning the instruments.
  3. Actively listening to the radio.

My plane today was VH-JBC. On the way to the hangar, I saw VH-AHH in the maintenance hanger receiving its 100-hour treatment.

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Cessna 172 - 100 hour maintenance

I took advantage of the opportunity to take a few photos of the engine. You can see them on the right. 

I did some research and found that the 100-hour maintenance on a Cessna is a "big one". It is equivalent to 20,000 km of maintenance on a car (but a lot more expensive).

The 100-hour maintenance for a Cessna 172 is a thorough inspection required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for aircraft used for hire or flight instruction. It's similar to an annual inspection but occurs more frequently.

Here is an outline of the work that is involved:

Airframe Inspection

  1. Fuselage and Hull Group:

    • Examine for skin corrosion, dents, or cracks.
    • Check windows and windshields for damage and clarity.
  2. Wing and Center Section:

    • Inspect wings for structural integrity, surface damage, and secure attachment.
    • Evaluate flaps and ailerons for functionality and condition.
  3. Empennage Assembly:

    • Check stabilizers, elevators, and rudder for damage and excessive free play.

Landing Gear Group

  1. Main and Nose Gear:

    • Assess tires for wear, corrosion, and proper inflation.
    • Examine shock struts for leaks and correct inflation.
  2. Brake System:

    • Inspect brake pads, discs, and fluid levels.
    • Test brake function for consistency and effectiveness.

Engine Group

  1. Engine and Nacelle:

    • Perform a compression test on cylinders.
    • Inspect for leaks, and check the condition of hoses and belts.
  2. Ignition System:

    • Examine spark plugs, magnetos, and wiring.
    • Check ignition harness and timing.
  3. Fuel System:

    • Inspect fuel tanks, lines, and filters.
    • Test for contamination and verify fuel pump functionality.

Propeller Group

  1. Propeller and Spinner:
    • Check for cracks, chips, and balance.
    • Examine spinner for damage and secure attachment.

Flight Control System

  1. Control Cables and Linkages:
    • Inspect for wear, correct tension, and lubrication.
    • Test control surfaces for smooth and unrestricted operation.

Avionics and Electrical Systems

  1. Instruments and Avionics:

    • Verify proper operation of all instruments and avionic equipment.
    • Inspect wiring and connections.
  2. Electrical System:

    • Check battery, alternator, and circuit breakers.
    • Test all lights and electrical systems.

Additional Checks

  1. Emergency Equipment:

    • Ensure proper condition and availability of emergency gear.
  2. Record Keeping:

    • Log details of the maintenance performed in the aircraft's logbook, adhering to CASA's record-keeping requirements.

The 100-hour inspection for a Cessna 172 under CASA regulations is a detailed process focusing on the safety and airworthiness of the aircraft. 

When I was back at Camden on Sunday (for a Scout Activity Day), AHH was still in the hangar. It had completed the 100-hour maintenance, but was waiting for a new set of wing tips and navigation lights (LEDs) as the old ones had developed cracks.

Simulated engine failure

In today's flight, one of the exercises I did was to simulate an engine failure. I had done this exercise a couple of times with Greg. 

A simulated engine failure is a training exercise in general aviation where the instructor simulates the loss of engine power, allowing the student pilot to practice the procedures for handling an actual engine failure. This exercise is crucial for developing the pilot's decision-making and emergency-handling skills.

This is how this simulation works:

Execution

  1. Initiation:
    • Typically, the instructor unexpectedly reduces the throttle to idle, simulating an engine power loss.
    • The instructor ensures safety and airspace clearance before initiating the simulation.
  2. Pilot Response:
    • The pilot’s first response is to maintain aircraft control by establishing the best glide speed, ensuring the plane achieves maximum distance and time in the air.
    • The pilot then checks the surroundings for suitable landing areas.
  3. Troubleshooting:
    • The pilot attempts to identify and rectify the cause of the engine failure if possible, following a checklist that may include checking fuel supply, ignition, and engine instruments.
  4. Emergency Procedures:
    • If the engine cannot be restarted, the pilot follows emergency procedures, including selecting a landing site and preparing the aircraft and passengers for an emergency landing.
    • Communication with air traffic control and broadcasting a distress call if possible.
  5. Simulated Landing Approach:
    • The pilot maneuvers the aircraft towards the chosen landing area, simulating an approach.
    • The instructor typically resumes normal engine power before the aircraft descends to a low altitude, avoiding an actual landing.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Decision-Making: Enhances the pilot’s ability to make rapid decisions under pressure.
  2. Aircraft Control: Improves skills in controlling the aircraft during glide and emergency situations.
  3. Emergency Preparedness: Familiarizes the pilot with emergency procedures and increases confidence in handling real emergencies.

In this exercise, my task was to aviate the plane to (1) set the speed to best gliding speed (68 kt for the Cessna 172 I'm flying) and (2) to identify a suitable landing location within 30° to the left of the right of the nose. Because of my altitude at the time, turning back to the runway would be impossible and would not attempt it.

Flapless approaches

I've done several flapless approaches in my training and did more in Hour 18. Flapless approaches in a Cessna 172 present unique challenges due to the changes in aircraft performance and handling characteristics when landing without the use of flaps. Understanding these challenges is crucial for safe and effective piloting.

Here are some of the challenges that all pilots should be aware and trained to handle:

Higher Approach Speed

  1. Increased Stall Speed:
    • Without flaps, the stall speed of the aircraft is higher, necessitating a faster approach speed to maintain a safe margin above stall.
  2. Longer Landing Roll:
    • The higher approach and touchdown speeds result in a longer landing roll, requiring more runway distance to come to a stop.

Altered Flight Characteristics

  1. Reduced Lift:
    • Flaps increase lift; without them, the aircraft generates less lift, affecting the glide slope and descent rate.
  2. Steeper Descent Angle:
    • A flapless approach often results in a steeper descent angle, requiring more precise control and judgment from the pilot.

Handling and Control

  1. Increased Sensitivity:
    • At higher speeds, the aircraft may feel more sensitive to control inputs, especially in turbulence, demanding more precise handling.
  2. Flare and Touchdown:
    • The flare maneuver requires careful timing and execution at higher speeds, with a risk of floating or bouncing if not performed correctly.

Energy Management

  1. Excess Speed:
    • Managing excess kinetic energy during a flapless approach is critical. Failure to do so can lead to overshooting the intended touchdown point.
  2. Go-Around Considerations:
    • The pilot must be prepared for a go-around procedure, which may be more challenging at higher speeds and with different aircraft configurations.

Environmental Factors

  1. Wind Conditions:
    • Crosswinds and gusty conditions can be more challenging to manage during flapless approaches due to the higher airspeeds and altered lift characteristics.
  2. Runway Selection:
    • Choosing a runway with adequate length is essential to accommodate the increased landing roll.

Flapless approaches in a Cessna 172 require careful consideration of the altered flight dynamics, higher approach speeds, and different handling characteristics. Pilots must be adept in managing these challenges to ensure a safe and controlled landing. Regular practice and thorough understanding of these factors are key to mastering flapless landings.

Weather 

The weather observed for this flight was excellent.

Here's what BOM shows for the day:

No complaints about the weather on the 8th of November.

For this flight, ATIS reported this:

RW 06, Wind calm, CAVOK, 20°C, QNH 1019, information Alpha.

The flight

A good flight starts with a good pre-flight inspection and completed checklists. Unlike Hour 17, I did not do any major stuff-ups on the ground! One minor omission was that I (almost) primed the engine with the mix lean (it must be rich). Davide pointed that out and I made the mix rich. Startup and taxi were good. The radio call for circuits clearance and ready for circuits were also good. Run-up checklist was completed properly,  and there was no change in weather conditions (I was actively listening to the radio!).

I used the safety and departure briefings that Davide gave me yesterday (I think these are written by Greg). You can see them here.

So far so good.

Take off was good, and we were off for a standard, normal circuit. This first circuit was not bad. I was able to hold altitude and airspeed reasonably well (except in final, see below). Spacing with the runway and heading were also good. The landing, though, was bad. I did a hard bounce off the runway and immediately pushed in the throttle to take off again and about slamming back down on the runway. My airspeed was too high at around 70 kt instead of 65 kt. I should have gone around. I also did not pull back on the control column over the threshold to help the plan slow down by pitching up, and allow the main wheels to touch down first. Although this was practically a touch-and-go, it wasn't well controlled. My decision to apply full throttle and prevent the plan from bouncing again on the runway was good.

The second circuit was also standard approach, ie. with flaps. I went a bit wide in final, but speed was better controlled.  Over the threshold, this time, my speed was too slow (60 kt, and I had the plane pitched up too much. But I did get a better controlled landing. I retracted the plan, pushed full throttle, and took off for circuit 3.

I did one more circuit with normal approach (which ended up too high and did a go-around), and then Davide demonstrated how to do this properly in circuit 5.

I was back in control for circuit 6. And managed to pull an excellent landing 🙂 Airspeed over the threshold was exactly 65 kt, I was very happy.

Circuit 7 was flapless. This means speeds on base, final and over the threshold must be +5 kt. However, Davide decided to do an impromptu engine failure simulation. After this, I returned the plane to the circuit and commenced the flapless approach. My biggest challenge with flapless is that I only have pitch to control speed.  In this attempt, I was too fast on base, and this caused me to be wide on final. I did manage to get the speed under control just before the threshold, however I bounced off the runway (just like I did in circuit 1), and immediately applied full throttle to take off and prevent a second hard bounce.

Back in the circuit for another flapless approach (interlaced with another engine failure simulation). On final, my profile looked OK, but I was distracted by a plane on a runway and a call from Tower with too many words in it (!!). The mental effort I needed to deal with managing the approach, processing the plane on the runway, and responding to the Tower call dissorganised my approach, and I decided to go around.

I was now in circuit 9. It was a near perfect circuit (for me), with excellent speed control over the threshold (75 kt). However the Tower had not given us clearance to land, so we did a go-around just before touch down. Damnit! That's one more thing to keep track off: clearance to land. Without clearance, I either have to check in with Tower (if there is sufficient time to do this), or go around. 

The circuit was getting busy, so circuit 10 would be the last one. This was going to be a regular approach, and received clearance to land in early final. Aside from being to the left of the centerline, it was a good landing. 

My biggest problem in this morning's flight was speed management.

My next flight with Greg would not be a potential solo because I still have things to improve.

Hour 18 instructor review

Here is Davide's review:

TBA

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Shorter and narrated video for Hour 18.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 17.

The space between the engine and the cabin firewall. That's where some of the electrical and electronic equipment is situated, along with hoses and cabling.

The device with the black cover is responsible for providing external electrical power to the plane. You can see the plug on the right side. You can connect an electrical lead to that plug and power the avionics instead of running the engine.

You can see the battery (with the red cover) and the caps of two of the engine's cylinders (notice the Lycoming brand stamped on the caps).

Looking at the top of the engine, you can see the fuel distributor. I am not sure of the name of this device. Its purpose is to transfer fuel into the cylinders.

A view of the underside of the engine.

A view of the right side of the engine. You can see the oil tube (top left), and the covers of two (of four) cylinders.

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