Friday, February 10, 2006

Free At Last!

It didn't really look like it would be a nice day for flying today, but on the way home from work I noticed that the weather wasn't really that bad. While gloomy, the ceilings were around 6,000', and I only need 3,000' to fly around the local area. The automated weather system reported 10 miles visibility and winds west-ish at 6 knots. The forecast for this weekend includes precipitation deep enough to measure, so this looked to be my only chance.

My first inclination was to fly out to MadCo and do some stop and go landings - landings are the first thing I get rusty at in this plane, so a little practice seemed like a good idea. It turned out to be such a good idea that every other pilot in the area had thought of it too. There were three in the pattern at MadCo doing touch and goes, and another couple of arrivals calling in from a few miles out. That's a little too crowded for me, so I headed down to the southwest and practiced some maneuvering instead. A few steep banks later, I couldn't help thinking how little I miss the old Tampico. The RV is so much fun just to fly that I don't feel that I need to have a destination in order to justify the cost of flying it, like I did in the Tampico. And fifteen minutes or so at a time is plenty.

I called back in to Bolton tower over Lily Chapel just a few seconds after a Cessna 172. I didn't have him in sight, but I knew I had to be close and with my airspeed of 150 knots, I was going to catch up in hurry. He reported in with his altitude at 2,400, so at least I knew he was 300 feet below me. I also knew he was a reasonably experienced pilot. I could tell he was experienced by the way he volunteered his altitude without being asked to by the tower. That's something a low-time student pilot on a solo flight usually doesn't think to do, and it makes a big difference in which part of a pretty big sky you concentrate on while trying to visually locate him.

Experienced pilot or not, I really hate getting behind renter pilots in the pattern. They fly a wide enough pattern for a business jet, plodding along at 70 knots. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against student pilots and/or renters, having been one myself for so long, but getting behind one in the pattern is just excruciating. When I finally caught sight of him, he was off to my right and about 500 feet below me.

I was still higher than I normally would be this close to the airport, having stayed up at 2,700 feet until I knew where he was and could safely descend. I turned a bit to the left and went into a dive so that I'd pass off his left wing far enough away that I wouldn't be in his way if he made a sudden turn, called him on the radio as I passed by his 9 o'clock so he could get a fix on my position, and hit the pattern at mid-field right downwind to 22 doing 140 mph. Normally at this point in the pattern I've slowed to about 110 mph in preparation for extending the flaps at 100 mph, which I do just before the turn to base leg. Getting slowed down from 140 to 100 that quickly was surprisingly easy, probably because I still don't have the wheel pants on and I'm dragging around those aerodynamically repugnant wheels. The tower warned the 172 that my roll-out would be slow, to which I took mild affront and decided to land a little beyond where I normally touch down in order to reduce the distance I have to roll out before getting to a taxiway. That worked superbly, and in fact resulted in a fabulous landing.

There were some momentous moments today. First, it's notable that one of the tower guys recognizes me and my landing habits now, just like they did back when I was in the Tampico. He's correct in that I do usually roll out pretty slowly in the RV-6 since it's hard to see out in front once the tail comes down, and if it's windy I'm usually having enough trouble keeping it straight anyway. Even so, it was just a bit surprising to hear him warning the other plane about it.

The other thing of note is how much finesse I put into the approach and landing. Modifying my normal patterns in response to changes in the traffic environment, such as landing long because I have another plane approaching behind me or I'm entering downwind at a different point and airspeed than usual are the kinds of things I did routinely in the Tampico, with the actual flying aspect of the approach and landing happening so subconsciously that it was if I were on autopilot. Tonight was the first time I remember that happening in the RV. I'm so comfortable with the plane now that I was able to concentrate fully on positioning myself correctly in the pattern without causing a conflict with the other plane, while still utilizing the full capabilities of my plane rather than meekly pulling in behind him. It wasn't that long ago that just getting around the pattern and making a nice landing was a big challenge, so this was pretty gratifying.

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