Flying With Sarah

After a thunderous and stormy night today (05/02/2012) was wonderful bright sunny day with hardly any wind. I checked the aviation weather website before leaving and saw that the cloud ceiling was low although you wouldn’t know it by just seeing the sky. I left at around 8.30 am for my 9.00 am scheduled class with Sarah. Jeremy assigned me to Sarah as he was busy with finals week. When I reached the school I only saw a couple of cars in the car park whereas usually there are a number of them by 9.00 am. I suspected that instructors and/or students may have called in and cancelled due to low cloud ceiling. I went in to the school and greeted Mary and immediately asked her if classes were cancelled as the car park looked quite bare. “Well there have been some cancellations” replied Mary, and continued, “…and I haven’t heard anything from Sarah”.

So I completed the paper work and went to preflight the plane. Everything went fine with the exception of the fuel check. When I tested the right wing for the fuel, I found it to be nice and blue in colour with no water or debris. Aviation fuel is either blue or green depending upon the grade. Then I checked the left wing and found that the fuel here was clear i.e. colourless. I took another sample to make sure and found more of the same colourless fluid. I assumed that the wrong fuel had been put on this side; I thought it might have been jet fuel which is colourless. Since everything else was fine I returned to the school and noticed that Sarah had arrived and was chatting with Mary. “Hello Sarah” I said. “Hi Tiger” she said smilingly and further said, “You know the cloud ceiling is low, so we can wait it out and see if it rises”. “Yes I assumed that and had asked Mary if she knew if you had called and cancelled” I replied. I placed the fuel sampler in front of Mary and thanked her and Sarah said, “Let’s go to my office and discuss what’s going on”. As Sarah sat down in her chair she said, “So you’re having problems with landings?” “Yes” I said, “…but before we continue I would like to mention Sarah that the fuel in the left wing is colourless and I know that it should be blue or green”. “Oh really?! It’s probably water since we had quite a storm last night; or it might be Jet fuel” said Sarah. “Yes that’s what I assumed, since I took quite large samples and if there was any water it would have sunk below the blue or green fuel” I said. “Yes, let’s go and check” she said. We both went out and Sarah checked the left side first as this is the one I had mentioned had the colourless fluid. She held the sampler under the wing and continued to allow the fuel to enter the fuel sampler until it turned blue. “Wow that’s a lot of water!” she said. “It’s a good thing you noticed because planes don’t fly too well on water” Sarah said smilingly. “Yes these fuel caps are not tight and with it being a stormy night a lot of water got in there” said Sarah as we walked back to her office. She told the linesman to check the other planes for similar problems.

Once we were back in Sarah’s office she asked me what my problems with landings were and I explained to her that I had been watching the King’s videos provided in my pilot’s kit and reading. “One thing they say in there is to always make sure you have the same view out of the window in front. This way you’ll get used to what the view looks like and will easily able to decipher if you’re too high, too low etc. But since I’m flying in different planes the scenes out of the window changes because in some planes the seats are lower, or they don’t adjust properly”, I said. “That’s true. So which plane do you like and we’ll make sure that’s the plane you always fly in?” asked Sarah. I didn’t think it was possible to fly in the same plane each time because so many students fly and I thought you got the plane that was available. “I like the one we’re going to fly in today, if we get to fly today” I said with a smile. “Okay so let’s go and do that right now with Mary”. So we walked back out to the reception area and Sarah seated herself in Mary’s chair and began changing the variously assigned planes to a single one, the one I preferred.

Then Sarah and I discussed further about problems with my landings. I told her how when I was with Tim, we went to Anoka airport where the runway is longer, he taught me to come in with a little speed i.e. not cutting the power to idle and then told me not to land but to keep the plane just off the ground, but each time I ended up landing it perfectly. “Yes that’s how to do it. It’s better to come in with a bit of speed than to come in slowly” she suggested. She also said that you can only improve on landings and no one is completely perfect, even the instructors, as each landing is different because it depends on the weather, the wind speed and direction etc. After a little more discussion she said, “I’ll assign you to Tim as he has more experience”. “I was originally with Tim and was assigned to Jeremy” I replied. “Oh okay, well I’ll put you on my schedule. When do you fly?” I fly on Wednesdays, and the weekends”. “Ah! Now that summer is coming, I don’t fly on the weekends but I do fly during the week” said Sarah and continued, “So I’ll put you on my schedule for Wednesdays”. After this we just waited to see if the cloud ceiling would rise, and at 10.00 am when the METAR was updated the clouds were 1000 ft but scattered and that was good enough to fly. Before taxiing to the runway Sara said, “Just try to land the plane today; don’t worry about cross-wind and opposing rudder as this is too much for students initially. Once you’ve got landings down, then you can think about handling the plane in windy conditions. I may help you with the cross-wind, but you won’t know it as there’s hardly any wind at all, so just focus on landing the plane”.

We practiced about five landings and were fair according to my standards but one major thing I learnt was when to flare. Both Tim and Jeremy had said, there’s no specific time when you’re supposed to flare and it can’t be taught as it’s a judgment that will come with experience. You’ll get the hang of it as you practice more landings, they said. However today, Sarah told me, “When you come in to land don’t do anything just let the plane fly and settle and just let it float. There will be a point when you’ll feel it drop all of a sudden. When you feel that slight drop, that’s the time to gently pull the yoke back toward you. From here on just judge what the plane is doing, if it’s going up ease off on the back pressure it it’s going down too fast add a little, but make sure they’re slight and gentle adjustments. If the plane is doing what you want it to do then continue with pulling the yoke back until the rear two wheels touch the runway first and the nose wheel touches it last. Also keep pulling the yoke back even after landing so it’s almost touching your stomach”

After the lesson was finished I saw that Jeremy had arrived and I greeted him. Sarah signed my log book and said, “I’ll talk to Jeremy about Wednesdays, and I’ll see you next week Tiger”. I said goodbye to her and left. I was pleased with Sarah’s teaching method but most of all I was happy that I now know when to flare because of her. Just one more step toward learning to land. 😀


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