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Lesson #2 / 1.1 hrs. logged / 2.0 hrs. total

Well, it didn’t work out with Lori as instructor because she lives about 1 ½ hrs. away and so mainly teaches on the weekends. I’m doing my instruction on the weekdays, so things work out better with Jim Grant as my instructor. He’s also the aerobatics instructor, so once I get licensed, I’ll be able to take that course in order to really bolster my overall skills.

I actually did find my logbook from 1984. I’d thought I had five hours or more, but I only have 3 logged. Oh, well. With my 100 hrs. in hang-gliders and a few hours stick time in sailplanes, I’m far better prepared for all of this.

So, lesson #1 being a cross between introduction and an actual lesson, #2 is getting down to business. Problem. The weather sucked in San Jose, yesterday. Very unstable conditions, towering cumulus, low ceiling, and winds at 15 kts. (but only about 10-15 degrees off runway centerline, though). In fact, it was a far better day for hang-gliding than for taking lesson #2, just trying to do some air work, getting the feel for the airplane, honing my precision at coordinating turns. Hang-glider pilots live for unstable conditions that don’t overdevelop, which is just what we had yesterday.

So, because of the low ceiling, Jim says it makes air work a little iffy, ‘cause we need to remain a minimum distance below cloud base, which doesn’t give us a lot of room to work. So, even though it’s their practice not to put students into the pattern with takeoffs and landings until the 10-hr. point, or so, he asks if I’m game; and I say “sure.”

Tail wheeled aircraft are difficult because once the rear wheel is off the ground, the airplane wants to pivot around the main gear. So, when you begin the takeoff roll, you actually have the stick forward. Not all the way; ‘bout right under the edge of the dashboard. It doesn’t take long and the tail comes off the ground. Then, you back off the stick a bit, but not all the way. Just exactly like in hang-gliding, you want to maintain negative pitch on the wing until you’ve got not only enough airspeed to fly, but enough to have authoritative control of the aircraft. So, in hang-gliders, as soon as the wing lifts off your shoulders and tugs on the hang-strap, you pull in on the control frame to keep it on the ground as you take a few more steps down the slope. By doing this, you can add a good 5 mph or more of airspeed.

However, once that tail wheel is off, you’re into a real rat’s nest, as it wants to weave this way and that, all over the place. As a student, you always over-correct with the rudder pedals, so it gets to be pretty embarrassing. However, after three take-offs, here’s what I figured out; and again, it’s directly from hang-gliding. In HG, there’s a phenomena that afflicts new pilots that we call ‘pilot-induced oscillation’, or PIO. This is when the wing banks and begins to turn one way, the pilot corrects to bring it back to straight & level, over does it, and the cycle continues, as well as does the amplitude between each cycle. Once it begins, there is only one way to stop it: let the control bar out to trim speed, i.e., slow down. And there’s the key to the cause. PIO only happens when HGs are moving fast, and that’s most typically on approach to landing, which makes PIO dangerous if a new pilot has not been properly briefed in what to do.

What causes this phenomena is the same thing that makes it difficult to handle the tail wheel: as the aircraft increases airspeed down the runway, the rudder becomes increasingly responsive and effective with respect to any given input. For instance, at 20 mph, a full deflection in the rudder might be needed, but once you’re at 50 mph, just a bit of an inch might be required.

So, what I have to do with this theory is test it. In HGs, the way to prevent PIO is to do what we call “bumping.” When movin’ along fast and you make a control input, it’s a quick bump and right back to center. If not enough, then you do it again. Or, if too much, it’s only going to be a bit, so a teensy bump the other way will get you back on track.

K, so I’m not anywhere near satisfied with all this, but I think I’ve got a few things figured out, so now it’s a matter of applying one sort of muscle memory to a different set of muscles moving on a different plane of motion.

I’m very pleased with how my skills in judging an approach and feel for glide slope have transferred over, which is to say: it’s about 100% applicable. With HGs and sailplanes, you only get one shot at a good approach, and this is sometimes landing in some field or clearing you’ve never seen before and have only gotten a few brief moments while in the air to scout out obstructions such as fences, tree lines, boulders, power lines, etc; and to judge the wind speed and direction by looking at trees, grass, water, etc. It’s a lot to do, and if you’re not sweating bullets, you’ve no business being there. In HGs and sailplanes, approaches and glide slope are practiced more than anything.

So, it’s just perfectly natural for me to keep the nose down, turn onto base, then to final, and see just about where I’m going to be rounding out. I don’t really need to look at the VASI, and the one time I sensed I needed to add power, I checked the VASI right as I bumped in a little power (and backed right off, of course), and sure enough, just barely red over red.

Right now, the instructor is fine with me coming in hot, which is what I’m accustomed to. In HGs, I bring it in hot right to ground effect, but my instructor wants me to round out a bit higher. We’ll I was surprised, because once in ground effect, it was the most natural thing in the world to keep my eyes up and out of the cockpit, straight forward. It’s just a matter of trying to maintain the same horizontal position. To do that, you have to gradually bring the stick back, so you’re trading staying on that horizontal plane for airspeed, which slowly bleeds off, and just then, you’ll sense the incipient stall, bring the stick all the way back, and settle fairly gently onto the runway.

All in all, the take-offs are going to be the toughest for me to learn. I’m probably far to confident on the landings, just yet, and I’m going to have to get that in check before tomorrow’s lesson; but for now, after 2 hrs., I’m feelin’ pretty good.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

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