Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Checkout & Another Electrical Failure

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the failure of the charging system in 35R the morning I was supposed to take my checkride. I'm a member of two flying clubs, though most of my flying has been in 35R and other planes owned by Congressional Flying Club. The Inn Flying Club has four nice planes as well, and I've done some fun flying in 92704 and 30YR, the IFC's two Cessna Skyhawks.

I found out, though, that while I could fly the IFC planes as a student, as soon as I passed my checkride I could no longer fly those same planes until I had a "checkout" flight with an IFC instructor. It seems a little flawed to me -- I can fly before I've proven to the FAA that I'm a safe pilot, but as soon as I've proven my proficiency, I can no longer fly until I do a checkout...?

Anyway, I've been trying to schedule checkout flights with IFC instructors for a couple weeks, and finally got my chance today. One of the flight instructors, Mark, called me in response to a pleading email and asked if I could fly this afternoon. My work day was flexible enough that I could, so we agreed to meet and do checkrides in both of the IFC planes.

We met and prepared to go flying in 92704. Mark told me that he thought the plane needed a new starter because it had been hard to start. When I started the plane, I told him I thought it sounded more like a weak battery. We got our clearance and taxied to the end of the runway. When we did our runup, the ammeter was fluctuating and hovering just below the center line. When I turned the beacon off, it stopped fluctuating, but hovered below the center line. I turned off the alternator, and saw no difference. Then when I turned on additional lights, the needle hovered even a little lower. Mark was on the fence about whether we could go, but I asked him if I was PIC and said that if I was, I was not going to fly the plane without having a mechanic look at it. He agreed, and we taxied back to the parking spot. As we were getting ready to shut down the plane, the radios started making a lot of noise and all the lights on the instrument panel started fading.

This is the second time in two weeks that I've had a charging system problem, in two different planes.

So we flew 30YR, which is the newest plane I've ever flown and very nice. Once we were outside the ADIZ, Mark had me perform power-on and power-off stalls, slow flight maneuvers, a long forward slip (with instructions to lose 2,000 feet in altitude). We flew over Carroll County airport at 3,500 feet, and Mark pulled the power for me to circle down to land on the runway without power. I landed a little long, but without any problem. Then I did a short-field takeoff and we headed off to practice ground reference maneuvers. I did turns around a point, using a silo as a reference point, then we climbed up higher so Mark could teach me how to use the autopilot.

The autopilot is something I have been excited about. This is the only plane I fly that has one, and it basically just keeps the plane flying a straight course, leaving the altitude control to the pilot. He showed me how to use it, and a little quirk it has, and we headed back toward the airport. Mark had me do a short-field landing so we could get off the runway as a courtesy to a jet that was coming in behind us, and we parked. Mark said he saw no safety issues and that he thinks I'm a very capable and safe pilot.

It was a good, fun flight overall, and I can now fly 30YR (again). That makes three (including 35R and 739BA, the two Skyhawks owned by Congressional Flying Club. I'm looking forward to adding different types of planes to my roster of planes available to me. I think that's the next step in my development as a pilot, followed closely by working on my instrument rating.

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