So glad to be writing this post. :)
The flight was later in coming that I had hoped, but no amount of wishing will make the weather cooperate. This was the first flight (Wednesday) after the monumentally disappointing one (last Friday) and I was so ready to get some good stuff done to restore my confidence (and probably Mark's, too!).
I spent the weekend reading, planning, processing, and preparing. Getting my brain set right. Focusing on proper traffic pattern operation, minding airspeeds and distance and flaps and power and altitude.
And it was good. I was bubbly when it was over.
To begin, it was a gorgeous evening. We weren't leaving the airport until about 6pm, which was later than hoped but Austin's rush-hour traffic will strain even the most generous driving time estimates. I stopped on the way to the airport to grab a protein bar, knowing that low blood sugar could well be my downfall since we'd be flying through dinnertime, and it could have been a factor on that last flight.
During preflight, there were two anomalies and one mistake. I'm trying to get better about preflighting and doing checklist tasks from memory then following up by reading through the checklist to confirm completeness. The first anomaly was that the fuel indicator for the left tank was bottomed out, while the right was maxed out. A visual inspection showed that both tanks were full, so just something to keep an eye on. The mistake was that from memory I did *almost* the whole preflight properly, but did not test the fuel from the three nose sumps (just the five on each wing), so I had to get out, get out the GATS jar again, and wrap it up. The second anomaly was related to the first; after cranking up the left fuel indicator came alive and showed full, but the annunciator for L FUEL LOW kept flickering intermittently. Something in that sensor circuit is screwy.
Mark and I discussed that he was to be a knows-nothing passenger for this flight (except when I actually needed instructor input, which I asked for a couple times). This put me in a frame of mind to be very talkative about what I was doing every step of the way, and that was a good thing.
Clearance was ok, thought I stepped on another transmission and bugged the controller who had told another pilot five seconds earlier to standby. Taxi was normal, although it is worth noting that in preparation for the expected F1 aircraft influx, they crammed the school fleets just as tight together as possible so the taxi was extra cautious. When I called ground the volume on COM1 was too low and so I missed the transmission and had to ask him to say again for 24AF. Run-up was normal, and we got to face down a Southwest airliner who was waiting for their clearance release time. I forgot to dial in our departure frequency, but I did remember to set the transponder to altitude-reporting mode, which Mark has been the one to remember so far in the past. Lights, camera, action!
Density altitude was a little over 2800' (field elevation 541') and it was again over 90 degrees; my plan was to rotate at 60 kts instead of 55, and that worked well. Our destination, Lockhart, is due south of the Austin airport, so we were given a heading of 170, same as runway heading, and that would take us straight there, with the Circuit of the Americas off to the east. As I was climbing, not long after takeoff, tower sent us to departure; here's where having it loaded into standby would have been great, because it's just a single button push to activate, but instead I had to twist a few knobs and look at the com in addition to managing the other takeoff climb tasks. I felt comfortably on top of the situation so it didn't add stress, but it should have been done earlier. On Friday, after an unexpected takeoff experience, it would have been much more difficult.
We climbed, we chatted, we looked around. It was very relaxed. We heard another trainer take off a little bit later, also heading to Lockhart for landing practice so we'd know to anticipate other traffic in the pattern. Soon enough, it was time to bear east a tad in order to join the 45 for left downwind for 18, Lockhart, and start descending to the 1500' pattern altitude and slowing.
The target power setting in the pattern would be 2100 RPM. Abeam the numbers we'd aim for 1500 RPM and less than 110 kts to be able to put in the first notch of flaps. I think I had us at 95 or so, which was great. We were a little tighter to the runway than I would have liked, so I aimed a little to the right. Left base, still descending, still slowing, shooting for 75-80 kts and a second notch of flaps. Doing fine. Turn to final, overshoot, correct course, slow to 70 and put the flaps to 30 degrees, with a goal of 65 kts at the threshold.
It was good. It was well-managed. It was stabilized. I don't even remember the touchdown itself, I just remember feeling victorious!
We taxied back, waiting at the threshold for the other trainer who was on final by now to do their touch-and-go, and as they turned onto the crosswind leg, we took the runway and took off. Nice takeoff, nice climb, nice re-entry into the pattern.
We did this two more times, for a total of three landings at Lockhart, keeping a nice spacing with the other airplane. There were little adjustments on each one, but I frankly don't remember one from the other at this point! They were all decent, and all performed within a pretty reasonable margin of each other, but here are the pattern and landing notes I need to work on:
- CENTERLINE alignment. It seems that my sight picture is off. Every time Mark told me to aim for the centerline, which to me it looked right but to him we seemed way left. I can certainly see that when I'm out at base distance, my alignment is poor, but it gets fixed, and I do still favor the left side. Once we're over the numbers, it's pretty close, but it's something I'll work on to be just right.
- THROTTLE FRICTION LOCK. There were several times in the pattern where I made power adjustments for being lower than I wanted to be. Mark said he had noticed the RPMs dropping by 100 or so seemingly without my intention. I tightened the friction lock so that I wasn't moving it inadvertently and it got better. There are still so many factors to hitting the desired altitude, but power being lower than intended is certainly one of them.
After three firm but satisfactory landings, it was time to head back to Austin. This was the time when Mark pointed out that the display on COM1 was unreadable. D'oh. We could hear the other plane, but were not confident that he could hear us. It would not be usable for dialing in Austin approach or anything else. We departed Lockhart, keeping the other plane in sight in case he couldn't hear us, and almost as soon as we were out of the pattern called approach on COM2. They vectored us back in to the north east, then around to join the traffic.
By the time we were in the inner ring of the Class C, it was dark. I could see the blue taxiway lights (which looked greenish-blue to me), but failed to remember that the rest of the runway lights are not omnidirectional and so I was thankful that ATC was helping us to get into the right position. Somewhere on base, the controller said we'd be #2 to land 17L behind the Phenom on final and asked if we had the traffic in sight. I replied that yes, we had the traffic. Mark and I were noting that we had no idea what kind of plane it was, but it was the only thing on final or anywhere nearby for that matter so it must be it. Then the controller asked somewhat pointedly if we had the Phenom in sight, almost like he was calling us on it! I said yes, then Mark pointed out that it would be better to confirm what we know, rather than what ATC is offering; confirming "we see a landing light on final at our 12 o'clock" would have been better. (We were quite far away from it.)
I got to do a landing in the dark but couldn't count it as a night landing since it wasn't officially night. The airport is a Christmas tree at night, that's for sure! This was a time when I called on Mark to be the instructor, helping me navigate back to the FBO. It's very, very different at night. I can stay between the blue edges, but I'm not fresh on picking out the various airport signs in the dark. You might think it'd be easier since they're lit, but alas... :)
All in all it was a really, really good flight and a good time. The non-landing things I need to work on:
- cut the word "for" from my communications (unless necessary, sometimes?). I don't remember specific instances, but imagine responding to an instruction with "whatever for 4AF." Was that "whatever, 44AF"? Avoid the opportunity for confusion. Be efficient and concise.
- respond more quickly. This will come with practice, but I will be aiming to improve on every flight.
I checked the 172R POH supplement covering the radio. It has a self-dimming display, but the user can set the minimum brightness. It's possible that was set too low. It's also possible that the display was just going. Things to check next time.