Flying Journal - Logbook Meditations
For a couple weeks, I had neglected to update my logbook from the daily entries in my appointment book. So I was not paying attention when my flying meter rolled over a certain milestone number of hours last week. I knew I was close, but it wasn't like when my first instructor, who had been staring at his watch, took the controls for the exact moment he actually completed one thousand flying hours.
As I caught up my logbook, I determined my exact moment would have been during the last lesson with one of my students as we prepare him to take the practical test for a Private Pilot Certificate.
But the lesson before that had been more eventful. Around the middle of November we had some rain one night. Then it had turned cold. A morning or two later, he had carefully pre-flighted the Cessna 150, but expressed concern over a moderate level of frost. He had turned the plane as the sun rose higher to expose more of the wing to the melting rays.
After brushing or melting all the frost, we began a seemingly normal take-off roll. The first suggestion of trouble was when my student commented, "It doesn't seem to be climbing very well???" Indeed, on such a morning of cold dense air, I would have expected the plane to lift us much higher above those trees and apartment houses.
Suspiciously, he tested the yoke, as if to see if he could safely pitch the nose a little higher. I checked the airspeed indicator. To my astonishment, without the pitch of the plane changing, I watched the needle slip steadily down below sixty, then to 55, then 50, really too slow to be flying one of these things!!! Now it was nearing the stall speed without flaps, yes, now it was nearing the lowest possible flying speed, the stall speed WITH flaps, BUT, there was no stall warning, no buffet, no pitch change, so obviously we were still flying. My reflexes had me ready to push the yoke forward to regain flying speed, but I resisted. The plane felt like it was still in a normal climb attitude.
I reached over and turned on the pitot heat. considering conditions, I figured the pitot tube was freezing. We were approaching a safe altitude, and the airspeed needle bounced a couple times, but then we stopped watching it. At that point, we had to ignore the obviously unreliable instrument and pay attention to the attitude of the plane. I took advantage of this real life urgency situation to create a lesson for my student. So far, I was impressed that he had flown the plane correctly by its attitude rather than being misled into an unwise attempted correction by a malfunctioning instrument. I began to think maybe he really was ready for the checkride.
My conclusion was confirmed a little later in our lesson. The airspeed indicator seemed to have recovered its wits when I began to talk my student through one last maneuver to master for the practical test, the emergency descent. We simulate an engine fire by pulling the throttle to idle and diving the plane at least 2000 fpm, or to the yellow caution limit on the airspeed indicator. Hopefully this would put out a fire, then you could perform an emergency landing in a field.
As we began the maneuver, the airspeed began to creep up--and up--and up! It kept climbing, higher than I've ever seen the airspeed needle on a little Cessna, 170 mph, 180 mph . . . This in spite of my student reducing his forward pressure that put us into the emergency dive. Obviously, again, the plane was not flying "as indicated." We knew it wasn't going that fast. It wasn't much faster than best-glide speed, yet it indicated 100 mph too fast. Pitot heat had been on all the time.
Once again, my student trusted the sound of the engine and airflow, and the attitude of the plane, to reassure him the plane was at a safe attitude and airspeed. We were especially alert during the landing approach, without an accurate airspeed indication, but the landing was fine. Upon examination, when I touched the static port, a droplet of water flowed out to my finger. Obviously, the rain had been blown into the ports and drain holes and it was still wet when it froze. We had not noticed it during pre-flight, so it was probably still frozen up inside the system somewhere.
We ended our flight early, not wanting to tempt fate twice. A couple days later, we flew again, even though the wind was 12, gusting to 20 at least 50-60 degrees across our runway. That was especially fun because it was from the west so it created turbulence as it crossed the trees just west of both of the runways we used. Once I was just starting to help the controls with additional cross-wind correction, when he was finally able to fix it himself.
The last landing, back at his home airport, was crazy. A downdraft like a large hand pushed us down toward the trees at the approach end. Then a turbulent, rolling gust blew us away from the trees, and just as we got aligned over the narrow runway (40 feet), a gust held us back, then threw us sideways towards the edge of the runway. As we corrected, it dropped us towards the pavement, but at the last moment another gust of lift floated us up as we adjusted our corrections and finally managed to set down a little too far down the runway.
What most surprised me was the big grin on my face. I almost whooped and hollered. That made me realize I must have been taking it easy for a while, with a morning student and an evening student and we hadn't tested ourselves against a good gusty mid-day wind for weeks. I hadn't had so much fun in quite a while, and realized a meaning in this lesson for the instructor, that I need to keep myself challenged, safely. Later I added up my logbook and discovered that this meaningful lesson had indeed been special, a milestone hour, number 3,000.
Fly safely, for all your hours and holidays!
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