Sunday, May 22, 2011

"No Fair Having Fun..."

So I'm signed off to take my Commercial Single-Engine, Land checkride on Tuesday.  I have a "mock" checkride tomorrow with another instructor, just to make sure everything is fine, but the endorsements are in the logbook.  The last hurdle I had to pass in order to get those endorsements was to show my instructor I could perform all the maneuvers in order to pass the flight test.  Lazy-8s, Chandelles, Steep turns - I was performing them well within the practical test standards, and often better than my instructor.  Hell, on the steep turns, I not only hit my own wake after the first one, but after the SECOND as well!

Unfortunately, I am human, and like all humans, had a nemesis:  The Power-Off 180.  The power off 180 is a maneuver designed to simulate an engine failure in which you have to make a 180-degree turn and land on a designated spot.  The kicker is, for the commercial exam, you need to be within -0/+200 of that designated spot.  When you're moving at 70+ MPH on touch down, that window comes and goes in about 2 seconds - its no easy feat!  On top of that, the Piper Arrow is no glider.  When you pull the power off and put the gear down, it sinks like an elevator with the cables cut (or a Cirrus full of doctors).  The margin for error is very slim, and for one reason or another, I could NOT get the hang of it.  Some times I'd come in too short and have to go-around.  Other times I'd float forever and miss my mark.  I was getting frustrated, flustered, and angry with myself.

So I started asking around for advice.  One of the senior instructors at FlightSafety recommended I pick a "gate" to aim for in the sky.  In other words, at "x" point from the runway on my approach, I should aim for "y" altitude, and that will put me into a position to make my point no matter what.  The theory was if I could get myself set up early, I wouldn't have to work so hard later in the approach.  So I tried it on my first attempt, and while the winds were relatively calm, I felt I was a little shorter than I wanted to be, but was able to use ground-effect and flaps to my advantage.  Had the winds been higher, I don't think I would have had the kinetic energy to get to my point.

At that point, I was happy that I could hit the mark at will, but I wasn't convinced the method would be perfect for my checkride.  I turned to my instructor and told him I was "going to try something a little unorthodox."  Keeping my pattern tight, I came abeam my landing point, pulled the power out, lowered the gear and imagined I was back home flying my friend's Decathlon.  Established in a slight slip, I started a constant turn to base, managing my airspeed through the pitch of the nose and noting my altitude.  Seeing I was a tad high, I put in flaps and increased the slip, all the while continuing my turn from base to final.  I had a LOT more energy than the other method, but as soon as I was into the wind, it started to dissipate rapidly. I rounded out a few feet over the runway, keeping the slip in to bleed the remaining airspeed, kicking it out only to grease it (greaser = soft landing) within 50 feet of my mark.

I couldn't help but smile, and under my breath, said the same thing JJ would say time and time again: "No fair having fun..."