Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Learned About Flying Being a Dumbass From That

I thought it would be nice to enjoy tonight's sunset from the air, so I drove over to the airport for an 8:30 takeoff. I also wanted to test my new XM antenna location for the AnywhereMap, so two birds, one stone. The sky was clear, and the somewhat toasty temps had dropped to bearable, and the winds were essentially calm. Everything was lined up for an enjoyable flight.

I headed out west to the wide open spaces that lend themselves so readily to enthusiastic flying, and climbed to a healthy altitude before letting Papa have free rein. We started with a loop, followed by a roll to the left. Another loop was next, followed by yet another loop. Having intended only to fly for a few minutes, I thought it would be expedient to roll out of the top of the loop on a heading back towards the airport. This is something I've done before, but this time was a little different in that I was at a little slower airspeed than I normally would have been because I had lost a little in the previous loop. As I rolled over at the top of the loop, I got a little slow and got into a kind of mini stall, where I was hanging at the top of the loop with no Gs on the airplane. This is not an abnormal situation since it happens now and then during aileron rolls, but this time it lasted longer than normal. As is usual when I have no Gs on the airplane, the engine dropped RPM as it lost access to fuel which had dropped away from the bottom of the fuel tank. That normally only lasts a second or so but because it took me a couple of seconds longer to get Gs back onto the airplane this time, the engine actually quit.

I quickly got the nose pointed down to get some knots deposited in the airspeed account and the prop continued to turn at a pretty good RPM just from the airstream running through it. In fact, it was hard to tell that it wasn't actually running; interestingly, it's more something that you feel than anything else. It's still making quite a bit of noise and the prop is still spinning at blur speed, but you can feel that there is just no enthusiasm for the job at hand.

The next 5 - 10 seconds, which as you can imagine felt more like 5 - 10 minutes, were spent getting the mixture back to full rich and starting to look for someplace to land, although I fully expected to be back under power in the near term. I was over 4000' up, so I had plenty of time in the bank. The prop was still turning at a pretty good clip, so engaging the starter would have done nothing but slow it down. Sure enough, with just enough of an admonitory cough to stress the gravity of my error (Get it? 'Gravity' and the lack of same having caused the entire incident?) Papa sprang right back to full power.

The landing back at Bolton was uneventful, and truth be told, was actually pretty good.

So, what did I learn? It's hard to say, but at a minimum I certainly learned that mid-maneuver is not a good time to change the plan. I always know what I plan on doing before I start it, but tonight I tried to ad lib with the impromptu roll at the top of the loop. "Never do that again" was a good lesson to learn, and I'm happy that the tuition for the lesson in this case turned out to be so low.