Friday, March 09, 2007

Unusual Attitudes

When I arrived home from flying tonight, our neighbor and friend was visiting with Jodie. After I said hello and told them I had a good flight, Ceni remarked at how happy I seemed. She then had to demonstrate my posture, mood, and lack of affect when she's seen me after a normal work day compared to how I seemed when I came in. She made me laugh, but it's true -- flying generates a "high" that lasts long after the flight. I think it's one of the few reasons that Jodie doesn't object to me flying -- simply because it makes me happy, which makes her happy. When we were in Knoxville last Thanksgiving and I went for a flight, Jodie greeted me on my return with "Let me see how big your smile is!" She's so wonderful.

Last night truly was a great flight. Rich and I took off from Gaithersburg at about 7 pm. Immediately after takeoff, I put on the hood to fly by reference to instruments only. I kept the hood on while we flew north toward the Pennsylvania border. Rich had me practice all sorts of "normal" maneuvers, such as climbing and descending turns, then he took control of the plane.

There's a concept in flying referred to as "positive transfer of control," and it involves a verbal exchange to make sure that everyone is clear who is in control. There are three steps. When Rich wants to take the plane, he says, "I have the controls," or "My plane." I then respond by saying "You have the controls," or "Your plane." Rich then confirms by repeating "I have the controls," or "My plane." The transfer also works in reverse, so if Rich wants me to take control, he says, "Your plane," or "You have the controls." I confirm that I have the plane, and Rich repeats.

After Rich took control of the plane, I still had the hood on, and he told me to look down at my lap so I couldn't see any of the instruments and gauges. Rich then put the airplane through a series of maneuvers -- nose up, power off, hard right bank, nose down, nose up, power on full, bank left, nose down -- all over the place. Then he said, "Your plane." With the hood, I couldn't see outside to get any visual reference for which way was up. And with all the "yanking and banking," my inner ear was telling me all sorts of confusing and contradictory things. I honestly didn't know which way was up. "My plane," I said. "Your plane," Rich repeated. I looked at the airspeed indicator -- our airspeed was low, near stalling speed, but increasing rapidly. The altimeter said were descending rapidly. I pulled the power out to idle. I looked at the attitude indicator and directional gyro. Our wings were banked way over to the right and we were turning quickly. I banked the plane back to the left and pulled back. I cross-checked the attitude indicator against the turn and bank indicator to confirm which way our wings were banked (in case the gyroscope in the attitude indicator had failed) and to make sure the "ball" was centered. The directional gyro said we had stopped turning, and the altimeter said we had leveled off and actually started a slight climb. Airspeed was dropping off very quickly -- I added power and pushed the nose over slightly.

A few seconds after Rich had given me control, I had the plane flying straight and level, then climbing back to our starting altitude. Whoa. That was my first recovery from an "unusual attitude" by reference to instruments only. And I did it! Rich critiqued me -- I had been a little slow getting the wings level and nose up. "Let's do it again," he said. "My plane."

We did a bunch of those, I'm not sure how many. At one point, while I was looking down and Rich was controlling the plane, he pushed the nose over hard and we experienced some negative Gs. My stomach went from my toes to my throat, back to my toes. It felt like riding a roller coaster with my eyes shut. By the end of the night, though, I was quickly and confidently bringing the plane back to straight and level flight after Rich's roller coaster rides. I found that I didn't need to stop and think to interpret the instruments so much -- if the attitude indicator and turn and bank indicator said we were banking right, I instinctively banked left to get the wings level.

It was a great exercise, and after repating it for a while, we headed for Carroll County Airport to practice some more performance take-offs and landings. Short field, soft field, slips to a landing, simulated engine failures.... When we finally took off to head back to Gaithersburg, I put the hood back on, navigating and controlling by instruments only. On the way, Rich had me do a couple more recoveries from unusual attitudes, which I now did easily.

What a great flight! My confidence level is high, though my stomach was a little queasy after all the blind maneuvering. It was gratifying to see Rich searching in the baggage compartment for miscellaneous items from his flight bag -- the negative Gs made his flight bag in the back seat hit the ceiling and scattered stuff throughout the plane. It was 9:30 pm as I headed home and stopped at McDonalds for something to eat -- I shouldn't have eaten with my stomach churned up like that. I didn't get sick, but I wasn't feeling well through the rest of the night.

I'll fly on Saturday if the weather holds, and then I should be ready to go. Checkride, here I come! [gulp]

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