Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Touchstones: Honoring the Basics

The FAA has a helpful publication that wouldn’t hurt us to check out now and then, whatever our level of experience and skill: the Airplane Flying Handbook.
Sure, it may seem like plain vanilla...but where would hot fudge sundaes and banana splits be without good old dependable vanilla?
We pilots need to maintain our good airmanship foundation, no matter how big a hotshot we sometimes imagine ourselves to be.  Reviewing the essentials helps us recall those nuances we forget, or shortcut...and which, in a pinch, we may desperately need in our quiver of flying skills.
Once we start down that "I got this wired" slippery slope, the risk of incidents and accidents increases...and who needs that kind of education?
Criquet Storch SLSA
Case in point: FAA's Handbook section on porpoising.
I sometimes revisit a landing tendency that I've been working to correct: I will make a bigger-than-necessary pitch correction after bouncing a landing.
If I balloon up at a higher angle of attack then I want, I'll push the nose over -- too far.  Instructors invariably tell me, "Whoa, just let it settle or go around, don't go chasing it."
I picked up that habit from hang glider and ultralight flying, where ultra-slow landing speeds and draggy airframes sometimes let you get away with...and even require...dramatic last-second pitch-ups to keep you from making hard landings.
The problem with such pitchy exuberance in an LSA or traditional GA airplane is the cleaner airframe's tendency to let you get it into "porpoising" flight, by chasing an ever-growing up/down nose angle...until a hard impact becomes unavoidable.
Porpoising is a classic scenario for collapsed landing gear.  A local SportCruiser was recently destroyed when the pilot lost control after porpoising near the runway.
Rather than reprise in my own words how to avoid mimicking the happy undulations of our sea-going mammalian friends, I'll refer you to this excellent section (it's a PDF: go to page 8-31).
I know I picked up a few pointers I'd forgotten...and learned a couple things I'd never learned in the first place.  After all, no one CFI can cover it all, no matter how skilled.
A pilot's license is our ticket to continue lifelong learning...and self-teaching through study and practice is an important component of it.
Speaking of the SportCruiser, I started to porpoise one the first time I flew it.  The SLSA has a very sensitive pitch response, especially compared to its roll pressures.
I expected I would be easing the nose off the runway just fine on my first takeoff but we suddenly zoomed up to a 20-30 degree angle.  Instead of easing the stick forward, I pushed it just a bit too smartly forward -- and we were instantly looking back down at the runway.
My instructor said "Whoa cowboy, easy does it!" as he eased the stick back to establish a proper climb angle.  I became a pitchmeister with my pinkies in that airplane from then on.
The FAA Handbook's bottom line: if you get seriously out of sync in pitch inputs, just power up and go around.
We sometimes forget we usually have a choice.  Doing a go-around is always a good mindset to keep in your mental skillbag: it's too easy to slip into the "I gotta land now!" syndrome.
Give that Handbook a look: I bet you'll find something in there that will make you a better pilot.

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