“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP.”
At first, I was annoyed by the sound of the dreaded alarm because it was the weekend and the original plan was to sleep in. That quickly changed once I realized what today was and what lay ahead! So I promptly hopped out of bed, ran upstairs, got ready for the day (rocking the generic pilot shirt), and drove to my local airport. Once there, I climbed into our twin Piper Seneca, Betsy we so affectionately named her, and lit the coals and got moving. It was dark when I departed, but luckily the sun just started to make its debut upon arrival. It was one of those surreal moments when everything seems perfect and that this is where I’m supposed to be.
It didn’t take long to fly just 45 miles southeast, where I was to meet a buddy and go fly his newly purchased Cessna 182. We talked for about an hour beforehand on basic aerodynamic principles and had a good discussion on what the game plan was for our flight. Lessons were learned both for him of basic flight characteristics and me working towards my CFI on proper communication (which definitely needs a lot of work). Probably the biggest take away was to “AVIATE, NAVIGATE, and then COMMUNICATE.”
Above all, we will fly the plane at all times and never kill ourselves because we got distracted, resulting in CFIT (controlled flight into terrain) or a stall/spin accident close to the ground. Once we are under control and the plane is in stable, steady flight, we aren’t going to get lost and fly into a restricted area, across the border, etc. Make sure we know where we’re at and where we’re going in all phases of flight from startup to taxi back. Then we can communicate. Whether it be to other traffic in the pattern or local area, or to the controller trying to get in contact with us, we should be making quick, concise, and professional radio calls so everyone is on the same page and informed of what’s going on.
The startup and taxi out was rather uneventful. Everything in the run up check went well, so it was time for flight. “Centerline attained, heels on the floor, full power within 3-5 seconds, airspeed alive, gauges in the green, rotate at 50, let’s go fly!” We climbed up towards the practice area, where we decided to practice some stalls. Have you ever done power-on stalls and not been able to get it to actually stall? Neither had I, until this happened and we learned that with full power, two people, probably a quarter tank of gas, we could not stall the plane with the elevator full aft. My mind had been blown. In a Cessna?!
After he reached the stop, I told him to keep bringing it back until we felt the buffet and then recover. After sitting with a ridiculous deck angle for several seconds, noticing our airspeed was below stall, the vertical speed indicator and altimeter still showed a positive trend, so I grabbed the yoke and yanked back, thinking there’s no way. But sure enough, we had hit the stop and were still going up. Insane.
After recovering and getting back on the ground, we were laughing about it, saying, “Wow, what a remarkable airplane.” Surely an experience never to be forgotten. We said our goodbyes and I climbed back into Betsy and flew home, where I decompressed from the craziness of what just happened for a few minutes. Then it came to me: we may not have trimmed the horizontal stabilizer all the way nose up, not allowing the elevator to reach its full travel, preventing a stall with full power.
Once I had that moment of clarity and quickly thought about the physics, another friend texted me and wanted to go fly. He hurried out to the airport where we hopped into Wilbur, my and my dad’s RV-14A.
We probably buzzed around for an hour or so, finding new spots to possibly use as an emergency landing location and just enjoying the harmony of the flight controls. I quickly learned how good of a pilot he was as I let him have the airplane and felt his control inputs on the stick and rudder pedals. Not surprising, as some of our previous adventures had been exploring what a J-3 Cub is capable of and how to handle it.
For the next three hours we did even more of just that. Nothing fancy or spectacular about this plane.
I quickly learned “low and slow” is something all pilots should learn to be a part of. Between my friend and me (and full fuel), it doesn’t exactly climb like a homesick angel. Quite the opposite in fact—you learn how to fly the wing. Rather than avoiding thermals and climbing above the bumps in the RV or the turbo-charged Seneca, you use the bumps to gain altitude and if you can’t gain altitude you’re stuck turning towards descending terrain to avoid being too close to the ground should you lose power.
We practiced wheel landings, tail landings, flying the tail all the way down the runway and not letting it touch the ground, stalls, and some off airport landings in a nearby field. We practiced hopping from the left main onto the right main and vice versa while cross controlling the plane to see what power inputs are needed to not let the tail touch while you’re trying to stick one tire down at a time.
After we had flown around for a solid three hours and used up our fair share of go go juice for the day, we decided to call it quits. We were taxiing back when I realized the sun was setting and I just couldn’t pass it up. Another one of those moments you just have to sit in awe at the sight. I’m sure this feeling has been felt by many, including you.
Anytime there are moments like this, I try to open up and turn on all of my senses and let it all sink in. The satisfying smell of the exhaust. The quiet hum of the propeller and engine working together. The screws you feel through the little foam pad you’re sitting on that are annoying, yet oddly comforting. All the colors of the sunset from the deepest of purples to the most majestic oranges. Makes you realize that from sunrise to sunset, there’s always lots to be learned in the world of aviation.