Ground School and Air Traffic Pattern


I’ve just arrived from my flight lesson and I’m a little happier than I have been regarding my performance. I arrived slightly early on the morning of November 5, 2011 for my 8.00 am lesson, and as I checked in, Mike at the front desk was chatting with Tim, my instructor. I greeted both and began completing the plane rental and emergency contact information form when Mike said, “It’s a bit gusty up there!” I don’t know if he was saying it to me, to Tim, or was simply announcing it so both of us heard it. But Tim replied, “Oh is it?!” and then continued, “Well it might be good in a way because I remember flying with Deanna. It was pretty breezy up there one time and she struggled, but then the next day when it was much calmer, she flew like a pro. So the tough wind helped her to do better the next day.”

After I completed the form Tim said that we would be doing a bit of ground school today, but I ought to first go and do the pre-flight check. It was nice to do the pre-flight check today because the plane I had reserved was in the hanger where it was warm. The November nights and early mornings are pretty cold in the Mid-West. Upon completion, I went inside and Tim wanted to know how well I knew the Air Traffic Pattern (ATP), since I was flying inconsistently the last time. So he gave me a pen and asked me to draw the Air Traffic Pattern on the white board with the various heights and speeds and anything else I thought would be required to safely land the plane. So he was basically asking me to draw that diagram I’ve posted in a previous post and to explain each step as I drew it. And that’s what I did. He then proceeded to ask me some other questions such as, “What speed should we be traveling in the Upwind of the ATP? What do we need to do to maintain speed if power is constant? What should be the height in the Upwind before we make a turn in to the Crosswind?” By the time we had finished Ground School, it was already 9 am, and there was one more hour left for flying. So we walked towards the plane and noticed that it was still inside the hangar. Willy came and pulled it out of the hangar as Tim and I waited outside before boarding. It was a sunny day and not at all breezy on the ground. The sky was clear and the temperature was about 43 F.

Once again we flew out to Anoka airport and Tim requested Anoka Control Tower for Stop-and-Go’s. We were given permission and we flew toward the runway 18 R as instructed by Anoka Tower. I was remembering what we had just reviewed and I was saying it aloud so that Tim could correct me if I was wrong. “Okay so as we’re approaching the runway, we’re already in Downwind.” I said aloud. “That’s correct”, said Tim. Because of the angle of our approach to the runway and the way  it was laid out, we couldn’t be in any other ATP leg, other than the Downwind. I reduced the throttle to 2200 RPM and maintained airspeed at about 90 knots. We continued at this speed for a little while and as we approached the abeam point, I reduced the throttle to 1700 RPM and maintained airspeed at 90 knots still, held the yoke firmly (to prevent the nose from moving upwards) and pulled in the first stage of the flaps. “Good and the speed is looking good also” said Tim. Then I looked back after we passed the abeam point, at about 45 degree angles to the abeam point, I made a left turn into the Base leg and continued. About 2/3rds of the way into the Base leg, I reduced the speed to 80 knots and held the yoke firmly as I pulled in the second stage of the flaps. You must hold the yoke firmly even push it in slightly as you change the flaps because at every flap change the nose moves up, and if you’re not concentrating you continue flying upwards. This is one of the major mistakes I was making the last time. If you continue flying upwards, then you’re defeating the purpose of landing. The entire ATP is a gradual process of descent. Next I made a left turn into the Final, and reduced speed to 70 knots, held/pushed the yoke in and pulled the last stage of the flaps. I could see the VASI and it was red over white, which is what it’s supposed to be i.e. we were at the correct height as we approached the runway. Now that the plane was really slow and coming down gradually, the wind was making it a bit difficult to manage it. But I tried and held firm. Tim said everything’s looking good so far, now as we were just over the threshold I reduced the RPM to zero and the speed was about 60 knots. We flew level for a while over the runway and I gradually pulled the yoke back slightly. This raised the nose and slowed the plane down even more, and as this happens the plane gradually wants to come down until the back two wheels gently touch the runway and then the main front wheel touches it. As you pull the yoke back you often here the stall warning alarm go off and this is what is supposed to happen because you’ve raised the nose slightly and the wings are at the Critical Angle of Attack and there’s no more lift for the wings. I got a little help from Tim for the actual landings. I now realise that the entire approach i.e. the ATP is very important for making that final landing a success, so I’m focusing more on the ATP, and I believe the actual landing will eventually come to me. I said to Tim, “I think I did a little better than the last time, not much better, but a bit better.” Tim replied, “Oh yes!”

Before I conclude this post, I should mention that I learnt a few other things in Ground School today which I did not know. AGL and MSL. AGL stands for Above Ground Level and MSL stands for Mean Sea Level. We need to know these so that we can be at the correct heights in ATP. Crystal Airport is 900 feet MSL, and we make our turn into Crosswind at 400 ft AGL, so the total height is 900 feet MSL plus the 400 feet AGL, 1300 feet. So we fly at this height in the Upwind at 80 knots and make our turn into the Crosswind at 1300 feet and then continue climbing up to 1900 feet. When you’ve traveled approximately 0.5 – 0.75 miles you make your turn into the Downwind, and then continue as I’ve explained in the previous paragraph.

My next lesson is tomorrow at 8.00 am again, and I hope it’s not as windy as it was today. I’m sure we’ll do more takeoffs and landings tomorrow as there won’t be any Ground School.

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