To get to the airport I drive along Euclid Ave which passes along the west end of Runways 26R and 26L. Today, as with every other time I drive by I was looking for whatever planes were taking off. I guess I’m still not tired of watching planes, any planes, fly. However today was a bit different because as I passed 26R I saw a bright yellow plane just sitting in the middle of the runway with some kind of vehicle by it. That didn’t look good.
I arrived at the flight school, got the log book for the plane from the receptionist and went out to pre-flight the plane. Everything looked good, except the fuel had not been filled back up to the tabs (18 gal each side) after whoever flew it last. I was only going to be flying around the pattern and I’m sure wouldn’t need more than what was in the plane, but the school’s checklist says the tanks need to be at the tabs before flying so I went back inside to see if there was anyone around that could fuel the plane. Unfortunately there wasn’t anyone there currently, but she said the owner of the school would be back shortly.
I wandered around the hangers and after about ten minutes the Cherokee 180 and Mooney M20B that belong to the school both came around the corner at the end of the hanger row. The owner of the flight school was giving a new instructor a ride in their Mooney.
The owner fueled the plane for me and then asked where I was headed. When I told him I was just going to stay in the pattern and practice landings he said I might want to wait a little for them to clear 26R because there were a lot of planes backed up waiting on 26L. That was when I found out what the yellow plane I saw on 26R was.
Chino has a great museum and many of the planes in the museum still fly. One of those planes is the Northrop N9MB, it was the fourth and final in a series of 1/3 scale test models for the Northrop XB-35 flying wing. It is the only one that is left… Something apparently went wrong when it was landing and the nose gear collapsed. The owner of the school said he was going to take the cart out to see if they had cleared the plane yet and asked if I wanted to come along.
We got out to the runway and they had already moved it so we drove around to the hanger where they were putting it away. It looked like the front strut had snapped. I can only imagine the feeling the pilot had when he felt that go, knowing he was flying a one of a kind, multi-million dollar aircraft. Fortunately the damage did not look too bad and they think they will have it repaired in time for the Air Show next Spring.
We got back and I sumped the tanks, did a quick check of the plane since we had been gone for a little bit, and then got in and started it up. With both runways clear there wasn’t any backup and by the time I was finished with my run-up the only two other planes out there had left and I was first in line. The tower had me cross 26R and take off on 26L to make left traffic in the pattern. The landings were better today than a week ago, which is good because I would hate to be going backwards. It was another fairly quiet day in the pattern and on one downwind the tower cleared me for a short final, but then took the clearance away. I had just turned on my downwind when I got this call from the tower.
Tower: “Cherokee 4132Juliet, I have a lear jet on a straight in for 26L, you are cleared for a short final and touch and go only if you like.”
Me: “I’ll take the short final touch and go only runway 26L, 32Juliet.” (Cool, I haven’t done a short final for a long time.)
About the time I was just past midfield on my downwind the tower called me again.
Tower: “Cherokee 4132Juliet, cancel the short final and extend downwind, he’s moving pretty fast.”
Me: “Cancelling short final and extending downwind, looking for that traffic, 32Juliet.” (Dang it…)
Tower: “Cherokee 4132Juliet, you are #2, runway 26L, cleared for the option. That lear jet should be about your 10 o’clock, caution wake turbulance.”
Me: “I have the traffic in sight, #2 runway 26L, cleared for the option, 32Juliet.”
As soon as he had passed me I began my turn to base. He was moving so fast by the time I turned final he was already on the ground. After four trips around the pattern with touch and go’s I landed and taxied back to give myself a short break and get a drink of water. It was another day hovering around 90°. My left hand was always on the yoke and my right hand was alternating between the throttle, the trim, and then flaps once I was abeam the numbers on the downwind. Each time on the downwind around midfield I would trade hands on the yoke so that I could wipe the sweat off of my left hand on my pant leg.
On another trip around the pattern there was a ‘three ship formation’ talking to the tower. As I turned base for 26L I saw them turning base for 26R, a P-38 and two other old war birds. It was neat to watch them fly by
me as I was on final.
I did get another chance at a short final later and took it. The tower offered it to me so I thought ‘Why not?’
Today was a day of milestones and what I think are a few big progress marks (those things that you look back and say ‘I think I’m finally getting some of this’). First, I am now over 100 landings and what a difference it was from the first one to number 100. I am looking forward to seeing where I am at another 100 landings from now.
Second, my pattern was much better today. I have been using Droid EFB on my tablet which is great to be able to go back and review my flights. I noticed when reviewing my flight from the 13th that my base leg was anything but square. I just wasn’t compensating for the winds. The winds today were fluctuating some, they started at 260 at 13, went to 220 at 11, and at one point were 250 at 13 gusting 19 (runway 26 so almost right down the runway but those gusts are interesting for a rookie). Anytime someone made first contact with the tower if the winds had changed from what was on ATIS the tower would give out the new winds which was helpful. I made a conscious effort to correct for winds as I was making my crosswind and base legs and it paid off.
Another cool thing from Droid EFB is the ability to upload your flight information and then view it in Google Earth.
Third, I have flown in gusting winds before and calm winds where you hit a pocket and a wing will drop on you or going through thermals that bounce you around. Every time I get that little ‘whoa’ feeling but today when I got bounced around a little or had a wing drop from a gust I didn’t get that little feeling in my gut but just made the correction. Just a little thing but still progress in feeling more comfortable and trusting the plane more.
Last, and this was my major breakthrough today, was controls on final approach. In normal flight you control speed with the throttle and your ascent/descent rate with pitch. When you are landing you are behind the power curve and you control speed with pitch and your descent rate with power. Are you going too fast? Raise the nose a little. Are you descending too fast? Don’t pull back on the yoke, keep the plane angled down and instead add power to slow your descent. I have had to make a conscious effort to keep from pulling back to slow descent and instead add power. Today it finally ‘clicked.’ Like driving my car with its manual transmission where don’t have to think about shifting, I just do it. Today I finally didn’t have to make the conscious effort to use the reverse controls on final.
I’m looking forward to flying with my CFI on Saturday and showing off my landing practice. I’m also going to do some more time ‘under the hood’ to get closer to finishing off that requirement. The only things I have left are the final 1.5 hours of instrument time and recovery from unusual flight attitudes, along with polishing up stall recovery and ground reference maneuvers. It’s getting closer…