Steep Turns and Stalls

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I’m going to start by giving you, the reader, details of flight training as I go along. I know I promised a day-by-day commentary, but that (a) gets to be too verbose and, (b) does not change that much on a day-by-day basis.

Most flight schools seem to start their trainees off real slow, by having the student go through things like climbs, descents, shallow turns, straight and level flight, etc. before getting into things like slow flight, stalls and steep turns. However, the folks at DuBois Aviation seem to take a contrarian view preferring, instead, to have the student start with these difficult manoeuvres so that the student has more time to work on it. Also, as my instructor mentioned, an understanding of the power-flight attitude couple and its impact on flight is essential to an understanding of landing. And we all know that we do want to land at some point of time!

Let us get into each of these manoeuvres in detail now.

Slow Flight

The whole idea of training someone in slow flight is to help them develop a feel for the aircraft’s controls at very slow airspeeds, such as those during a landing. For the purposes of training, this manoeuvre is conducted at a speed just over the stall speed of the aircraft. Here’s roughly how it’s done:

  • First do a clearing turn (a combination of two 90 degree turns, one in each direction, or a 180 degree turn, to ensure that there is no traffic around you while you attempt this manoeuvre.
  • Next start reducing the aircraft’s speed by reducing the throttle. Hold the altitude steady by increasing the aircraft’s pitch attitude.
  • When the airspeed falls below the maximum flap extension speed, start extending the flaps, in increments until you have extended full flaps.
  • Once the aircraft is stabilised, perform climbs, descents and shallow turns. Each of these manoeuvres requires a coordinated increase of power and aircraft pitch to hold the airspeed constant.

Obviously, the one thing not mentioned above is that you trim the aircraft after every change.

So, how did I do on this aspect of my training? As you probably guessed, not too good on my first 2 days. However, towards the end of day 3, my instructor said I was getting the hang of it, and that I was able to mentally correlate the variables (pitch and power) correctly.

Steep Turns

Steep turns are manoeuvres that are conducted by rolling the aircraft into a bank angle of 45 degrees (or within 5 degrees of that angle). When the aircraft is in a steep turn, the load factor on the aircraft increases greatly, subjecting the aircraft and its occupants to about 2G. Also, it requires excellent coordination between aileron, elevator and throttle to keep the aircraft at the same altitude and maintain the same bank angle while spinning around in a tight circle.

During your check ride, you are expected to roll into a 45 degree bank and hold the aircraft to within 5 degrees of that bank, while maintaining altitude to within 100 feet of the entry altitude and roll out at a heading that is within 10 degrees of the entry heading. It is tough, and I obviously need significantly more practice to get this manoeuvre correct. However, as my instructor points out, right now I have a grand total of 3.3 hours of total flight time in my log book. It’s not a lot!

During my next post, I’ll talk more about stalls and other manoeuvres.

Flight Training – Day 1

My first real day of flying was on Sunday, October 16, 2011. A typical southern california fall day – sunny and warm (actually, hot!) with temperatures in the 80s. Ahhh. I do love SoCal when it comes to the weather – earthquakes… not so much. But I digress…

The aircraft I’m going to be flying is the Piper Cherokee PA-28-140. It’s one of the workhorses of general aviation training (along with the Cessna 172). Here’s a picture of the aircraft.

Cherokee N4132J

And, here’s a picture of its cockpit.

Cherokee Cockpit

So, I headed over to my training facility, DuBois Aviation in Chino, CA where my instructor was waiting for me. We spent about 20 minutes in “ground school” going over the previous week’s homework, and then it was flight time.

The first step to flying is to complete a pre-flight inspection (often, just called a “preflight”). My instructor had shown it to me earlier and so, had me do this preflight on my own. I will post more details on the preflight in another post, but for now, suffice it to say that I spent the better part of 15 minutes going the aircraft to ensure that it was fit to fly.

Once preflight was completed, my instructor and I hopped into the aircraft. He talked me through the engine start checklist and I started the engines. I was finally getting ready to fly a real aircraft! Yay!

We taxied out of the hangar towards the runway. Of course, in order to get to the runway, we had to do a bunch of things…

  1. First we obtained the weather report for the airfield from the Chino ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) on frequency 125.85. This provided us with the weather information as well as which runways are in use, NOTAMs, etc. The ATIS is updated every hour and is always suffixed with a phonetic letter (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.). The counter resets to alpha after 12 hours where there’s no update or when the date changes. In our case, Chino ATIS was on Juliet (the letter “J”).
  2. After that, we tuned the radio to frequency 121.60 to contact Chino Ground Tower. This is the control tower that can provide us with taxi clearance to make it to the runway. The communication to Chino ground sounded something like this. Text in red is what we transmitted and text in blue is what we received. I’ll explain more about the communication and what it means in another post.
    • Chino Ground. Cherokee Four One Three Two Juliet. Waiting at DuBois Aviation. Requesting Taxi Clearance. Runway Two Six Right. With information Juliet.
    • Cherokee Four One Three Two Juliet. Proceed to Runway Two Six Right via Delta.
    • Proceed to Runway Two Six Right via Delta. Cherokee Four One Three Two Juliet.
  3. We then proceeded to the pre-takeoff area at Runway 26R via taxiway D for our pre-takeoff engine run up.
  4. Once the pre-takeoff checklist was completed, we asked Chino Tower for permission to take off. On receiving permission to take off, my instructor asked me to do it! Cool!
  5. Takeoff is pretty simple to do – it’s the landings that are hard! I rolled the aircraft onto the runway, aligned it with the centre line of the runway, advanced the throttle to full power and off we went down the runway. All single engine aircraft exhibit a left turning tendency at high speeds and high angles of attack. So, a little bit of right rudder kept the aircraft nice and lined up with the centre line.
  6. When the airspeed indicator showed about 60 knots, I began to pull the control column towards me and the aircraft started “rotating”. After establishing an airspeed of about 80 knots, I let the climb continue until we reached an altitude of about 1500 feet.

Now that we were airborne, the fun really began.

Unfortunately, I’m out of time now. More on that later…

TSA Clearance (or… the travails of an alien)

After the tragic events of 9/11, the US government decided that any non-US Citizen (i.e. an alien) would require TSA clearance to start flight school in the USA. The TSA clearance adds a bunch of expensive hoops for all non-US Citizens (like me) who want to learn flying in the USA.

Here’s what you need to do to qualify:

  • First start a candidate application at https://www.flightschoolcandidates.gov/ 
  • Upload scanned copies of your passport (required), US driver’s licence (required) and green card or visa (as applicable to your immigration status).
  • Finalise the flight school that you’re going to attend.
  • Start a new training request with the name of the flight school that you’re going to attend. This results in the web site sending an email to the flight school.
  • Once the flight school approves, the TSA checks the uploaded documentation and, if it is acceptable to them, sends you a request to pay the processing fee (which is currently $130).
  • Once the fee is paid (it can only be paid online) the TSA will send you fingerprinting instructions.
  • On receipt of the fingerprinting instructions, work with an authorised fingerprinting provider in your area to get the fingerprints and have them send it to the TSA. The fingerprints typically cost about $99.
  • On approval of the fingerprints, the TSA will send out an email to your flight school approving your candidature and allowing you to start your flight training. It is illegal for the flight school to commence your flight training until the TSA approval is received by them.

So, here’s the kicker… the fingerprints normally take any where between 10 days to 30 days to get approved. I got my fingerprinting done on Tuesday, September 28th. Now, I have to wait until my approval comes through. Hopefully, it’s some time this week so I can actually get started this coming weekend on my training.

As one of my colleagues put it, this is like a child waiting for Christmas to open all those delectable gifts that are under the Christmas tree! 

The FAA Medical

So, one of the requirements for a Private Pilot’s Licence is the successful completion of a medical examination administered by an FAA-approved Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). Although the rules around the medical examination, especially the criteria for rejection and/or special issuances, are quite clear, a lot depends on the AME, your relationship with him/her, and his relationship with the FAA doctors in Oklahoma City.

There are quite a few AME’s within a few miles of where I live, but I decided I would go to Dr. John T. Phillipp who is an AME in Glendora, CA and is himself a pilot. I had read quite a few reviews about Dr. Phillipp and they were all positive. So, I decided to talk to him.

While talking to Dr. Phillipp, I realised that I would need a special issuance medical certificate because I have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Since untreated OSA can impact your ability to stay awake during the daytime hours, the FAA requires that all AME’s assess the patient’s OSA symptoms, the current treatment protocol and rely on a certificate from the patient’s doctor that states that the patient has no daytime sleepiness.

Whereas another AME might have used my OSA as a delaying tactic and asked for a whole host of reports, Dr. Phillipp was very clear in what he wanted. Better yet, he asked me to send in all the required paperwork related to my OSA ahead of time to him. That way, he said he would have the special issuance approval from the FAA before my face-to-face medical checkup and, in turn, that would allow him to issue my medical certificate during the visit, assuming that everything else was OK, of course.

So, I sent Dr. Phillipp all the papers he asked for, including the letter from my pulmonologist on Thursday afternoon. By Friday afternoon, he had obtained the special issuance authorisation from the FAA!

I scheduled my medical examination for a Saturday (yes, Dr. Phillipp’s office works weekends too). His office is small, but really efficient. The receptionist has obviously handled many FAA medical examinations before. She went through the initial tests quickly and then passed me on to Dr. Phillipp. His examination was thorough, but quick and within about 1 hour, I had my FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate.

First Steps

As you folks probably know by now, I’m blogging my experiences while I work towards my private pilot’s licence for flying fixed wing aeroplanes. According to the FAA, the minimum requirements to obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence in the United States are:

  • Be at least 17 years of age.
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
  • Pass an FAA Medical Examination to obtain at least a Class III Medical Certificate.
  • Pass an FAA Knowledge Test (written examination / computer–based multiple choice test).
  • Obtain 40 hours of flight time to include 10 hours of solo flight.
  • Pass an FAA Oral and Flight Test (Check–Ride).

For me, the first two requirements are not an issue – I’m definitely over 17 years of age, and I can read, speak, write and understand English.