Lesson 19 – Landings and Patterns

Yesterday’s lesson almost didn’t happen. We are getting into the serious landing practice stage and, ideally, we would start out with light winds and gradually work up to stronger ones. When I got to the airport, the wind was 20 knots gusting to 25. METARS around the area showed gusts as high as 29 knots at other airports. The question was whether landing practice in those conditions would be helpful or just a frustrating waste of time. The new ATIS came out a few minutes after I arrived and winds at KUGN were down to 18 gusting to 22 knots and only about 15 degrees off the runway heading. We decided to go out and give it a try. There was no point going anywhere else so we would stay in the local pattern. If I was just struggling with the conditions and not really learning anything, we could call it quits at anytime.

The preflight, run-up, taxi and radio work all went fine. I am getting pretty comfortable with the airport environment now. I have used all the runways and taxiways and I know my way around without any prompting from my CFI.

The first takeoff was good but, the pattern was sloppy. This was a right hand pattern and those are always harder for me than left hand ones. Altitude and speed were pretty good but I was having a little trouble correcting for the wind on each leg. I overshot the turn to final (I seem to be consistent there, I always overshoot – never undershoot) but got back on centerline OK. I had the idea of how to correct for the crosswind but, the execution was something else. I knew I had to keep constantly changing the amount of ailerons and opposite rudder I was using but I was overcorrecting and drifting back and forth. Sandy helped at the end and we got down smoothly. Once we were off the runway, she said that I did fine. That was a surprise for me because I wasn’t at all happy with the landing. As we taxied back, we had a good view of another student landing. He bounced – and bounced – and bounced yet again. It was a good reminder that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, all students go through some difficulty with landings. That’s why we do all the practicing after all.

We did two more right patterns and landings on runway 32. Each one was a little better than the one before. On the second one, I had some trouble with keeping the takeoff run straight. I know that I wasn’t looking far enough ahead and corrected it on the third takeoff. Sandy had me critique each takeoff and landing. As long as I could recognize what I was doing wrong and what I had to do to correct it, she was satisfied that I was still learning and not just getting frustrated.

The wind shifted while we were in the third pattern so tower asked if we wanted to change runways. Sandy decided we would do one more landing with the increased crosswind and then switch to runway 5. Before we turned final she told me that, considering the wind, she would be helping on this landing. I actually did my best crosswind correction on this one. Maybe the larger corrections required made what I needed to do more obvious. Once we were down, Sandy said that she had helped out much less than she expected to.

We taxied to runway 5 and took off for a left hand pattern. I found that the better view of the runway made it much easier to tell how much I was drifting on downwind. There was more wind shear after the wind shift though and it was very bumpy right after lift off and on short final. Still, these two landings were the best ones yet. The last one was slightly hard because I ballooned a little. It wasn’t bad though and, I didn’t bounce.

We taxied back to the ramp and went inside for the debrief. We were both glad that we had decided to fly. I learned a lot from the flight. One important thing I noticed is that I am getting more comfortable flying close to the ground before starting the flair. On previous flights, I would always start leveling off way too high because I felt like we were lower than we really were and that the runway was coming up too fast. Today, I had a much better feel for how high I was and how high I should flair. Now, if I could just get a handle on how much and how fast to pull back maybe I could stop balooning.

The next couple lesson will concentrated on emergency procedures but, there will be plenty of landing practice too.