Today I added a new airplane to the logbook!
N21175 is a 1977 Piper Archer with the standard round gauges, supplemented with an in-panel Garmin 430. She has a beautiful leather interior and is a joy to fly. The archer is basically the Warrior with a heavier engine bolted on to the front, so I wasn’t expecting it to handle too much differently; overall I was right. The Archer was a little heavier in pitch and yaw than the Warrior and needed more aggressive trimming and rudder; roll was more or less identical to the Warrior.
I went up with CFI Elton to do a rental checkout. We met on the ground, shook hands and talked, gradually segueing into questions. How many horses under the hood? How many hours do I have in the warrior and in total? We talked as I preflighted and ordered fuel, and once everything was in order we took off and headed West to do some practice.
First things first, Elton observed that I was a little bit sloppy leveling off from climb. With a simple question or two he had me distracted and I shot through 2500 to 2700, and then back to 2400 and finally to 2500. We turned North, realized that the DG was hopelessly precessed, and then turned again. Elton reminded me that 1) I am VFR, and 2) looking out the windows gives us clear cardinal directions because the roads here are cardinally gridded.
Advice heeded, I proceeded VFR to the North. We practiced slow flight, riding the Archer right on the edge at 60 kias before recovering to normal flight. At that point Elton pulled the power on me. I pitched for 76 kias and checked the usual suspects: fuel pump, fuel tank, mixture, and so on. Elton pointed out that I had forgotten carb heat. At this point I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. The field I picked was just slightly out of reach, but in a classic case of plan continuation bias I continued instead of picking a new field. That’s a story for another day.
We went around and took off, heading West. Elton wanted to do steep turns next, and I immediately felt better. Steep turns are no problem for me. I whipped one to the left and one to the right, kept my altitude right at 2,500, and nailed it. I felt a little better about myself, and we moved on to stalls. The Archer, like the Warrior, does not like to stall and it seemed to take forever for the plane to go from mushy to stalled. Forward pressure, some dead dinosaurs to the powerplant, and all was well with the world.
Having done the basic air maneuvers, we headed back to Schaumburg for some landing. My first pattern was good. We taxied back and took off again, and I noticed Elton scribbling on his pad as we turned base-to-final and hit the pavement again. As we taxied back, he asked me: ever notice you always land left of centerline?
As a matter of fact…no. But on reflection perhaps I do…
Ever notice that you move the power a lot on approach?
…No. I think I do that because I’m afraid of over- or under-shooting the runway, and I micromanage the airplane.
With that food for thought we took off one more time. Elton told me: power at 2000 on downwind, 1600 on base, zero when runway is assured. Them’s the rules for this flight. Despite my paranoia about overshooting or undershooting, and my urge to micromanage the throttle, the approach was far better. Lesson learned.
Since I had an expert aboard I asked to do one more circuit. We took off, went left, left again, and came back…a little too high and fast. I decided to go around, at which point a helicopter in the pattern advised that he would be making right traffic into the departure end of the runway. A Brief Discussion on the radio ensued, and we flew parallel for a moment before the heli dove down behind us. It seemed to be a breach of airport etiquette to land on the departure runway while traffic was in the pattern, but what do I know…
…a brief 180 turned me around to face the airport again, and I plopped back to Earth on runway 11, happy as a clam.
Back inside Elton went over his thoughts with me.
- He said I’m a good pilot overall. He’d trust me with his kids in my airplane. I’m proud of that fact.
- He said I’ve gotten a little sloppy. I’m not proud of that fact. He advised me to go buzz around the practice area some and work more on basic air work.
- He also said that it might help to write down a lesson plan before I fly. I think that’s a great idea. Picking one or two specific maneuvers to do before each flight would give me a challenge to work on. I generally just fly to a local airport and land once or twice; having something to practice would be helpful.
All in all, things went well. I’m glad I went up with Elton. He’s a great CFI, and I learned a lot more from today’s flight than I usually do. I gained some insight into my own flying habits and found some areas to improve. A big part of flying is continuous self-improvement. None of us is perfect, and we never will be, but if we strive to keep learning we can all fly just a little bit better.