My stage one checkflight was scheduled for Sunday. The weekend storms that hit the Midwest with thunder, lightning and tornados made that impossible. To avoid any longer delay than necessary, we rescheduled it for the first day that promised decent weather, which happened to be yesterday (Tuesday). I would be flying with Skip, the general manager. The day was quit nice with clear blue skies but, with strong, gusty winds. That was just fine with Skip. He hoped it would make the ground reference maneuvers more challenging.
We started off with an hour of quizzing in Skip’s office. He asked questions from every area that I had covered in ground training or that related to the flying lessons I had completed so far. That part of the evaluation went fine. He also asked me what I thought my biggest problems were. I told him they were holding altitude in steep turns and timing the road crossing in S-turns. He said that most problems with maneuvers are the result of the student relying too much on the instruments and not looking outside enough. We would work on that during the flight.
Once done with questioning, he sent me out to preflight the airplane where he joined me just as I was finishing my checks. We buckled in, started up, did our run-up, called ground, headed for the active runway and got airborne. After I leveled off at altitude and completed the cruise checklist, Skip unfolded his chart and used it to cover the whole panel. He then told me to hold my speed and altitude but turn to the west and take us out to the practice area. After a few minutes, he lowered the chart so I could see how I was doing. The heading and speed were good but, I had gained almost 200 feet. He put the chart back over the panel but positioned so that he could see the instruments and I couldn’t. He had me make small pitch changes until the altitude was steady then had me hold it there while I got the sight picture in my mind.
Once I was holding altitude reasonably accurately, Skip asked for a steep turn in each direction – with the panel still covered. These proved to be the best steep turns I have done to date. The one to the left felt very level and Skip confirmed that it was nearly perfect. Steep turns to the right have been the harder ones for me and, in this one, I lost about 20 feet. That is still very, very good so, I’ll have to admit, looking outside more really does help.
Next was slow flight which we did at a slower speed than I have used before in my training. With full flaps, Skip wanted me to keep the speed right at the bottom of the white arc which meant that we were just barely above stalling speed. It was hard work with the gusty winds and I did lose some altitude it this maneuver. Still, Skip said it was good for this stage of training. I will have to pay more attention to the power when I practice slow flight in the future.
The final task at altitude was a power off stall. I got the nose down too much on the first recovery so, he had me do it again. The second one was much better and, after that recovery, we headed down into the pattern at Westosha for some lower level work. Although slips are not emphasized in stage one, we had planned to do a few during this flight. The wind gusts were just too much though and we decided I wouldn’t get any benefit from them at this point in my training. Instead, we went around the pattern a couple times and worked on crabbing for each leg as well as using a crab to hold the centerline during low approachs.
Ground reference maneuvers were the last item on the list and we started off with turns around a point. I have done them better – these were more egg shaped than round – but, considering the wind, they were acceptable. My S-turns were, as usual, my worst skill. Skip talked me through a couple and, I was doing better toward the end. I am going to have practice these a lot more before my actual checkride.
I flew us back to the airport, where Skip helped with the landing. We tied down the airplane then went inside for the debrief. I left out a lot of detail in this description of the flight but, of course, Skip was watching every aspect and not just the maneuvers. From checklists, through startup, run-up, taxi, radio work, airport operation, collision avoidance, pilotage, etc., he was evaluating it all. His overall assessment was that I am doing well above average for stage one of training. He did say that I have to keep my eyes outside more and avoid gaining altitude during turns. If I do better with looking outside, it should also help with the altitude control.
I learned a lot from this flight and gained some confidence too. So, stage one down and I’m ready to take on stage two. Next lesson is Thursday and will be stalls, stalls and more stalls.