Ab Initio 11 “Falling with(out) Style”

In which I learn how to make falling flying again, try not to impersonate a Stuka too often, admire some scenery and go around and around a few more times in another direction.

For once I barely glanced at the met report. Stepping outside into the sunshine and non-existent wind was more than enough evidence that we finally had the weather for the much-postponed lesson on stalling.

This time my usual slot of first lesson of the morning had already been booked and my lesson was instead at 1PM. So instead of the usual wake-up and peer outdoors before wombling to the railway station to eat ham sandwiches for breakfast on the train, I spent the morning wandering aimlessly around town while glancing at the clock every five minutes in a paranoia about missing the train and with far too much time to wonder what this stalling business was really going to be like.

Lessons were running a bit late by the time I arrived, the morning having been partly lost to aircraft repositioning, and added to by the weather meaning the bookings were packed with joyriders who’d had a trial flight voucher for Christmas and waited until this sunny afternoon to redeem it.

I perched myself on the grass verge and waited for my lift while watching one of the school aeroplanes meander through a large circle overhead.

At the airfield coffee and chat and listening to the police helicopter on its way through filled up the waiting time and having done the briefing on stalling already, in anticipation of better weather with were ready for the off almost as soon as Laurie was back on the ground from the previous flight. (A trial-flighter with an enormous grin on her face.)

Runway 22 today which meant that if we did have time to get a few circuits at the end it was going to be in the opposite direction to those I’d done so far, although in theory more common and easier as they’d be left hand.

Started up and taxyed out without any real problem, although I still have a tendency to hang on the starter a little too long.

The takeoff was similarly uneventful and we departed the circuit from the crosswind leg and continued to climb out towards the Gower Peninsula (and climb and climb some more, I thought my right leg was going to drop off by the time we got to 4000′. We were going out to the tip of the peninsula where Swansea Approach hoped we’d be out of the way of the tourist traffic sightseeing around the coast. It also had the advantage of being a good recognisable landmark to orient myself by.

It took about ten minutes to reach the right height and location and with nothing much to do but keep an eye on the climb and our heading it was lovely to have a bit of a chance to look out at the view and just enjoy being up in the air. I hadn’t been up this high since the climbing and descending lesson and in the gorgeous weather it was fantastic. Boats moved sluggishly up the estuary in the light wind and an early Norman ringwork castle slid by below us as we came back inland. The clearing turns and waggling of the wings to check beneath us revealed some fantastic views and made me grin in decidedly childish glee.

Beautiful, but admiring the view now gave way to the business of the lesson. Laurie took control to demonstrate. With the carb heat on and the throttle closed, holding the nose up for level flight lost the airspeed hugely fast. Laurie reminded me about using the rudder to keep straight because the ailerons would be ineffective in the stall, then the stall warner shrilled out, buffet, more buffet and then the stall. Then it was nose down, power on, carb heat off and start to pull up as soon as flying speed was regained. We lost about 20′ on that demo.

Next up was my go and while it wasn’t too hard to recover I did lose an awful lot more height in the process. This was in part due to my tendency to shove the nose down as though I was about to dive on the hapless sheep beneath us, and partly due to my struggling to coordinate the various actions required more or less simultaneously.

Practice improved the coordination and increasing familiarity reduced the rather alarm-driven response to aim the nose quite so drastically at the ground in the early part of the recovery.

We came on to stalls in turns by way of a rather reassuring demonstration. Laurie took control, closed the throttle then began a turn, banking just enough to make the stall warner chirp then recovering by lowering the nose and levelling the wings before the full stall developed. He pointed out how little a change was needed to prevent the stall before it occurred.

He gave me back control and we flew on repeating this manoeuvre until I was comfortable with it. It was good fun actually, swerving along–turn and level, turn and level…

We spent a long time covering stalls in turns with flaps extended to simulate a stall while turning onto final, perhaps while trying to stretch a glide during a forced landing.

Adding in the need to retract the flaps in addition to doing everything else cuflummoxed me entirely and I was back to shoving the nose at the ground while trying to sort everything else out. We must have been about 100′ deep into our imaginary runway on my first few attempts.

Eventually I began to get the hang of it, at least enough to satisfy Laurie, though he did point out that a lot of people actually found the stall recovery in that approach configuration easier because we were recovering on the stall warner not the stall itself. Not me though!

Like Pavlov’s bell and drooling dogs, there’s something about a siren that seems to induce very hasty and vigorous reactions in my brain and it took a lot of attempts before ‘shove the nose down’ became ‘relax the back pressure and allow the nose to go down enough to recover without the Stuka impersonation’.

By now time was ticking on and we had to head back. From 4000′ feet we could already see the airfield from where we were and the resulting trip down to 800′ on our way back was by way of a hugely enjoyable demonstration of an emergency descent. Slopping off height in huge, descending S-turns, we got down a heck of a lot quicker than we got up! Brilliant fun.

After spending the lesson up high the ground seemed a lot closer at 800′ than I remembered and it was suddenly a lot warmer. I’d forgotten we’d had the cabin heat on for most of the lesson. Down here it was far too warm for it and off it went.

FREDA check as we sorted ourselves out to rejoin the circuit.
“Compass and DI aligned? Nope. Nowhere near, after all that throwing it about.”
And I still get muddled about what turns which way.

We had time for one touch and go before we landed and it was frankly rather wobbly after the weeks away from it and a lesson doing other stuff entirely. I was nearly on the grass before the threshold, then I was off to the side heading for the sheep field. We did get down in one piece though and did one more circuit before landing.

Getting the turn onto final in the right place seems to be eluding me at present with the result that I spent half the time during the approach swerving back and forth trying to get back on the centreline, leaving me to too little time to get the height and speed sorted as well. Still. Back on circuits next time so plenty of practice upcoming.

Still enjoying myself and grinning my head off after every lesson!

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