First Complex Flight

We actually got a decent flying day on Sunday. Winds had been forecast to be gusting to 35 knots but we didn’t get that at Waukegan. When we took off at noon, the winds were 250 at 12 gusting to 20. That was only a small cross wind on runway 23.

CFI Pete and I started with a preflight of the Cutlass. On the interior, the only things I found different were checking that the landing gear lever was down and the propeller control was on high pitch. The exterior walk around is pretty much the same as with a straight-legged 172 except for checking the wheel wells for ice, snow, mud etc., checking the nose gear doors and checking for oil leaks at the propeller governor.

The club staff had preheated the airplane so we didn’t have any problem getting it started. The start up procedure is a little different than I am used to. This is a carbureted airplane while I have been flying fuel injected C172s. Under Pete’s instruction, I gave it two shots of primer, pumped the throttle twice and it fired right up.

We taxied to runway 23, did our run-up, which included cycling the prop a few times, and were ready to go. The takeoff roll and lift off were familiar but things got more complicated after that. With no usable runway ahead, I brought the gear up. A 500 feet AGL, I pitched down a little to speed up to 85 knots, brought the power back to 25 inches and set the prop at 2500 RPM. This would be our cruise climb configuration. We continued the climb to 3000 feet then leveled off and configured for cruise flight. This involved setting the power to 23 inches, the prop to 2300 RPM and leaning the mixture.

We repeated the climb and cruise configuration changes several times. I was learning to manage the power, propeller and mixture to make the changes correctly. When going from cruise to climb, the propeller is advanced to 2500 RPM first and then the power brought up to 25 inches on the manifold pressure gauge. As we climb, the power drops off a little with increasing altitude so the throttle has to be adjusted occasionally to hold the 25 inches on the manifold pressure gauge. When leveling off for cruise, the settings are reversed – power decreased first and then the prop set to 2300 RPM. My memory aid is to keep the prop setting greater than or equal to the power. Because the outside temperature was pretty low, I didn’t have to mess with the cowl flaps today. That is one more task I will have to learn to manage though.

During the climbs and level off routine, we worked our way up to 6000 feet where I did a couple steep turns in each direction. My eight month layoff showed as these were pretty crummy. The turns themselves were fine but I gained altitude on the first set and then over compensated and lost a hundred feet on the second. I tried it again and managed to keep the altitude change under 100 feet but I still wasn’t happy with them.

Next was some slow flight to simulate the landing configuration. This meant bringing the power back to 17 inches, setting the prop to high rpm as it would be when landing, dropping the gear and working the flaps down to full extension. No problem but it is definitely more complicated than in a fixed gear, fixed pitch airplane. After a couple minutes in this configuration, I reversed the process to get back into cruise. Flaps up, gear up, power to 23 inches, prop to 2300. Pete also gave me a demonstration of how quickly the Cutlass can be slowed from cruise to landing speed. By dropping the gear, reducing power, adding 10 degrees of flap at 113 knots then full flaps as soon as we got in the white arc, we went from 130 knots to 70 knots in 45 seconds. I’m sure we could have done it even quicker if Pete hadn’t been talking me through it. When the controller wants us to keep our speed up in the pattern, we can do it but still slow down quickly for landing.

Having practiced going from cruise to climb and back to cruise, we now worked on configuring for descents then cruise and back to descent. This meant setting power to 20 inches and pitching down to get a descent of at least 500 fpm. After leveling off at the new altitude, the power is advanced back to 23 inches and the mixture readjusted. While working our way down, we turned back toward the airport.

Back at 3000 feet, I called the tower and let them know we would be staying in the pattern for full stops with taxi backs (the club doesn’t allow touch and goes in retractable gear aircraft). As we got lower, we started getting bounced around by turbulence. For this first landing, I dropped the landing gear well outside the pattern. On downwind, I set the prop to high RPM, pulled the power back to 20 inches, and set carb heat on. Abeam the numbers I went to 17 inches and 10 degrees of flaps. On base I added another 10 degrees of flaps which was all we would use with the gusty winds and turbulence. On final, I held 70 knots and tried to correct for the crosswind. I did OK until just before touchdown. The wind was changing rapidly as we went down so I ended up 10 feet left of the center line. I blame it on being rusty after my long layoff.

We turned off and taxied back for the next circuit. Flying a complex airplane in the pattern keeps you busy. We start with carb heat cold, mixture rich and the prop in high pitch. Turn onto the runway center line, add full power, check the engine instruments in the green, good RPM and manifold pressure, rotate at 55 and climb at 75. With no room to land again, raise the gear lever and hold it until the gear up light comes on and we feel the gear bump into the wells, announce: “I have a gear up light and a bump.” At 500 feet AGL, pitch for 85 knots, reduce power to 25 inches, set prop at 2500 RPM and turn crosswind. Level off at pattern altitude (here 1500 feet) and set power to 20 inches while turning downwind. Do before landing checklist: seats upright, seat belts and shoulder harnesses tight, fuel selector on both, landing gear lever down and hold until green light comes on, look outside for the wheel and announce: “I have a green light and a wheel.” Pete tells me he also has a wheel. Mixture rich, carb heat on, propeller on high RPM. Abeam the numbers power comes back to 17 inches, add 10 degrees of flaps and nose down. Also this is the point for a GUMP check. Fuel selector on both, gear light green and wheel visible, mixture rich and prop on high. Turn base and add 10 degrees more flaps, monitor glide path and adjust power. Turn final and adjust power, add last notch of flaps if wanted (we didn’t on this day), do another GUMP check. On very short final do one last gear and propeller check before landing. This time the landing was off the center line to the right.

Yes, it is a lot to do and my sloppy pattern showed that I was overworked. I expect it to get more natural with practice so that I will actually have time to think about other things – like headings. I can’t get complacent though. Skipping a step in a complex airplane could be very bad. I don’t want to be the one who lands the club Cutlass with the gear up.

We taxied back to 23 for one more pattern. Pete had me fly this one a little wider so I was a little less rushed. It was my best landing of the day and a good one to quit on. I taxied us back to parking and shut down.

I now have 1.5 hours of complex time in my log book. The club’s insurance company requires 10 hours with 25 landings and 5 go arounds to fly the Cutlass solo. Next time we will repeat much of what we did this time but with the addition of stalls and emergency gear extensions.

  • Zach says:

    Great post! It’s nice to hear that you can fly again weather permitting right? Hope you had a great holiday!

  • Gary says:

    Good write up! Sounds like you were busy but working through the checks.

    December wx has pretty much stunk here too, is it spring yet???

  • Tom says:

    Hi Zach and Gary – Thanks for the comments. Weather permitting is definitely the key. We aren’t getting the wild weather of the previous couple weeks but, it is still winter and will be for a long time. Sorry Gary – it spring is a long wait away.

  • I don’t know if I’m grateful or jealous, snow and ice are not much of a hazard where I fly. It must be quite a chore, and especially significant since you are flying carbureted. I don’t mind carbureted engines per se, but having to monitor for icing is annoying, and leaning them for cruise can be a delicate operation.

    Great post! You sound like you are right on top of things.

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