Guest blog by Sylvia Fletcher
Read Sylvia’s account about getting back in the air and the challenges she encountered.
My flight test was done in a Cessna 152 last summer. I continued to fly until rough winds and low ceilings came in the fall, and decided I would simply pick it up again in the spring, thinking this would be an easy task. What I didn’t realize is that before I made this decision, I should have done some research and a little due diligence on what, exactly, it would require for me to be current again.
Before an airplane can be rented, a pilot must complete a practical and written test if that pilot has not either flown at that rental place before, or a significant amount of time has passed, (more than a few months), since the pilot’s last flight. The testing is documented and signed off by an instructor before solo rental can take place.
When spring came, I called my school and was informed the 152 was in maintenance awaiting a new engine. It was also scheduled to be painted. I decided I would wait a few weeks, and inquire again. By the time summer started, the paint was not dry and the plane was not ready to fly. The new engine also had to have at least 30 hours cross country logged in order to break it in before releasing it for demanding student use.
I therefore decided I would get current in a C172. Throughout my training in a 152, I flew a 172 occasionally, and have about two to three hours in a 172, and even though I knew I would have to get used to the differences in airspeed, attitude views, and just the general feel of a bigger plane, I suspected the practical flight exercises would be simple enough (sort of like riding a bike, so they say). I also realized that along with doing the exercises themselves, I also had to become familiar with flying a 172 again.
I requested a booking in a 172 which was similar to the 152. I wanted to eliminate as many differences as possible, in order to do the practical exercises, which would be stressful enough.
Sometimes the instructor acts in the best interest of the school, rather than the student. Sometimes, it’s the other way around. Instructors that I tend to engage find the perfect balance. In this case, the instructor booked me in a 172M, acting in the best interest of the school. It was explained that in order for maintenance to occur on a regular basis with all the planes in the fleet, the students are often “bumped” into a different plane that what was booked, in order to accommodate the maintenance schedule. They further explain that bumping makes one a better pilot. When I realized this, I refused to fly the plane that I was bumped in to. In my training I want and expect consistency. I realize that adding items while learning to understand a particular maneuver, task, or exercise in a plane, is part of the graduated learning process. Yet, familiarity breeds comfort, and purposeful bumping into an unfamiliar plane, in my view, adds unnecessary challenges.
On the pre-flight walk around, I realized the flap setting in a 172M is similar to a 150, in that an electric switch is activated, and held until the desired flap setting is achieved. I did not realize that there was another 172 model with a flap setting similar to the 152; hence the booking I originally requested. Why Cessna even came up with this idea to engage flaps by holding an electrical timed switch is a ridiculous notion, should be recalled, abolished and changed to a notched “set and forget” setting in all training planes! I was then told that the 172N model has a notched “set and forget” flap switch, similar to the 152, but it was not available at the time of my booking.
I made a note to make my next booking in the ‘N’ model.
Amazingly, once up at 3,000′ in the practice area, I was successful with a slow flight demo, stall recovery and a forced landing exercise. My instructor was not pleased on how I handled the overshoot, and said it was likely due to the added drag of 40 degree flaps, and hand to eye muscle coordination. Little did he, at the time, or I realize how much difference my unfamiliarity with a timed flap setting would make.
I believed I had completed some of the upper air work exercises in the ‘M’, in order to get current, and that I was half way through getting my check ride signed off. Unfortunately, I had not received the school’s Currency Check Ride List.
On the one hand, it resembles a flight test and can be quite intimidating. I had no idea of the amount of items needed to be checked off on that list! Things from tower light signals, comm failure, and soft field takeoff with obstacles. Had I forgotten that much since my flight test?
On the other hand, the Current Check Ride List is a great way to review and remember forgotten items. In my latest issue of Flying magazine, I read an article on one pilot’s decision to make a short, soft field landing, and took off without flaps only to crash through the top of trees at the end of the grass strip. The article stated there was no accounting for the added Runway Friction Index (in Canada, “CRFI”), or that, according to the Pilot Operating Handbook for the accident plane, 10 degree flaps were required for a soft field takeoff with an obstacle. The article states that no flaps were applied. If they were perhaps the pilot would have cleared the trees. This was a serious reminder that I have to know that grass will slow me down on takeoff. I have to know that 10 degree flaps will give me better lift for a short field take off. I have to know to always be diligent with my weight and balance calculations.
One of my Facebook pilot friends, Ed Bryce, a well-seasoned pilot, posted this check list used whenever getting into an unfamiliar plane.
1. How do you control the flaps?
2. How do you set the trim?
3. How is the fuel system controled?
4. Audio panel: how do you set it and hear/talk on which radio?
5. How do you set the radios?
6. Is there a PTT (push to talk) button or do you use the hand-held mike?
7. Are there any engine/navigation instrument that you’re unfamiliar with?
8. Are there any controls on the panel that you don’t recognize?
9. How do you prime the engine (some planes use a fuel pump rather than the hand control near the ignition switch)?
10. Adjust seat for optimal attitude/panel view.
Perhaps my last two rides getting current and familiar with a 172, the instructors have expected more from me, and were intentionally passive, just to get a feel for where I was at. Now that I have this checklist in hand, I am going to use it, and take a more active role in what I want covered, when and how. I also have a copy of the Currency Check List, and will diligently review and go over each and every item with my instructor, checking the items off one at a time.
About the author: Sylvia has a recreational pilot’s license and blogs about her experience with flying. Her blog features “chronicles of a passionate, enthusiastic female recently minted pilot, over the age of 50, who has come to appreciate that staying in ground effect and forward slips are the coolest thing.”
Check out her blog at PrimerMasterMags