While in ‘limbo’ waiting for my PPL to come back from the depths of the CAA’s licensing offices, I’ve been getting acquainted with the school’s 4-seater, a Cessna 172.
I’m delighted with my share in the PA38, G-TOMS, but you can’t fit too many friends and relations in a Tomahawk, and my sister has a hankering to go camping.
I headed down to the airfield on a briskly windy Sunday with no idea of how easy or difficult this was likely to be. Derek walked me around the aircraft, pointing out the relevant differences, (apart from the wing being in a different place – that one I’d spotted for myself) and particular things to notice when checking it.
High among these was the need to avoid losing flesh to the flaps, pitot, thingy-to-stop-the-door-banging into the strut or anything else sticking out from under the lower surface of the wings. Inside the changes were more initially disorienting than the basic difference in shape. The instruments were in different places, the switches were all pull-on-push-off knobs, the throttle and mixture controls were plungers instead of levers, and the flaps were electric with no detents just an indicator of the setting. They also went to 40 degrees, at which setting, I was advised, it came down like a stone.
I had a read of the POH while waiting for the instructor and perused the list of relevant speeds on the post-it note stuck to the checklist.
Laurie landed, swapped aeroplanes to join me, then it was up to do some circuits. We wanted ten degrees of flap for takeoff, and I duly overshot completely and had to raise them again.
Once established in the climb and passing through 200′ the after takeoff checks called for them to be raised, and I was surprised by how much pitch change this induced. The nose bobbed up and down in a messy sort of way for a few seconds as I got things settled again.
I then managed to make a rather chaotic mess of levelling out at the top of the climb, initially trimming completely back to front and shooting up in the air like a skyrocket until Laurie grabbed it to sort it out.
My excuse is that the trim wheel is rotated through 90 degrees compared to the wheel position in the Tomahawk, and for some reason, rolling it down to get nose down trim made more sense to my brain. In fact it’s the opposite, and once I mentally translated ‘up’ to ‘forwards’ and ‘forwards’ to ‘nose down’ then I didn’t have any further problems.
I was surprised in a more pleasant way by how easy it was to get trimmed, which is often a rough ‘more or less’ process on the Tomahawk.
To add to the unfamiliar feel, we were doing the circuits on the opposite side of the field today, due to a noise complaint. This meant that to avoid Kidwelly, and thus a slew of even more noise complaints, we had to either do very tight or rather wide circuits. As I was unfamiliar with the aeroplane we opted for the wide option. It was quite nice to be able to look down and see the beach below us though, especially without a wing in the way – one of the advantages of the high wing.
The disadvantage of it I found soon enough as we turned base and the runway promptly disappeared. Hmm. That could be a bit disconcerting if I was somewhere new. I suppose people get used to it.
I went through the downwind checks, stumbling when my usual flow was interrupted by the lack of fuel pump, and a certain amount of groping around the cockpit for switches not being where my hand automatically went to reach for them. I hadn’t realised how automatically and mechanically I did some of the checks!
One other difference came to light at this point, apparently this engine is more prone to carb ice than the one in the Tomahawk, and where we normally take the carb heat off after the downwind checks, this time it was to be left on. A green arc was marked on the airspeed indicator, and anytime power was less than that, carb heat was to be on.
Once on base I pulled the power back. The speed came off quite quickly and once into the white arc I lowered the first stage of flap which resulted in an another ungraceful sort of bob as I was caught again by their effectiveness and the amount of pitch change required.
Compared to the rest of the circuit the landing wasn’t bad. The approach, once trimmed nicely was made easy by the better stability and momentum of the Cessna – I just pointed it the runway and down it came with no wandering off or many corrections needed.
Back on the ground the borderline chaos broke out again as I fumbled to get the carb heat cold, the flaps up and full power back on. I’m sure this requires at least three hands, and combined with the fact we were travelling rather faster than the Tomahawk made the touch and go feel like a slightly frenzied affair.
We did half an hour of mixed landings, before knocking it on the head as we didn’t have much more fuel to play with. I felt I was getting the hang of it, but needed to be a bit more comfortable with the operation of all the gubbins and the handling before venturing out with passengers.
I signed up for another session the following week. This time I armed myself with a cushion from the clubhouse which improved my forward visibility and made me feel a little less like a granny in a people-carrier. Feeling less dwarfed (or intimidated maybe!) by the aeroplane made me more relaxed about everything else too, and the landings were a noticeable improvement.
I’d also discovered that the flaps took One Hippotamus per ten degrees to ower. As in; I want 20 degrees of flap so hold the button down and count “One hippopotamus, two hippotamus…” let go. This minimised the amount of time spent staring at the indicator so I could concentrate of getting rid of the ‘bobble’ when I lowered the flaps.
Keith was the instructor on today and he offered some more advice about the increased weight and the importance of checking the performance if I intended to fill the aircraft. Everything fell a bit more readily to hand this time, and at the end Keith pronounced himself happy for me to take it away once my license came back.
Brilliant stuff. On with stalking the postman!