A cold front moved into South West Florida precisely when I wanted to fly on Saturday morning. As Skip and I were preflighting N3521Q, some nasty low clouds came in and we thought we might have to cancel our training today. From the basic understanding of aviation weather that I have, I thought that cold fronts were suppose to bring clear skies and calm air. Skip confirmed that they did, but only after they roll in.
So here we are, checking the plane to make sure she can fly today all the while looking at the rotating beacon making sure it doesn’t turn on.
The rotating beacon is a light that can be seen from the air (and some roads). The light tells pilots at night “Hey there’s an airport here!” A rotating beacon that flashes white then green identifies that airport as a general aviation airport and open for landing. But if it is on during the day, it generally means that the weather is IFR only.
The weather held up as we reached the end of the hangars, even though we had the latest ATIS information, the winds changed so much that they favored a different runway. I feel much more comfortable taxiing up to runway 31 even though this a new runway for me. After a few minutes of doing our before-takeoff checks we get clearance for take off and with the plane under my control, we are off the ground. This time we were heading to the the southwest to avoid the clouds rolling in from the north.
After leveling off at around 950 feet Skip reports that the clouds are around 1100-1200 feet. Our air traffic controller thanked us for the information and approved frequency change.
Turns About a Point
We get near Fort Myers Beach and Skip explains Turns about a Point as a ground reference maneuver where a pilot picks a spot on the surface and does a 360 around that point. Good points are the intersections of major roads, churches water towers or anything else you can clearly see from the air . Learning to fly in Florida, a student pilot has the luxury of using unique reference points. Today for example, we used small islands near the beach! Turning around in a circle sounds pretty easy, and on a day when the winds are 0, it should be. But rarely is there a day when the winds are completely non-existent, so the pilot has to take into account all the stages of the wind (downwind, upwind, and crosswind). During each quadrant of the circle you have to adjust your bank angle. Adjusting your angle of attack is the way you keep the same altitude. Remember, flying adds that third dimension, up and down. When practicing turns about a point, you need to keep the reference point in the same spot, but you also need to keep the altitude and air speed the same.
We did three turns about a point, 2 to the left and one to the right. Using two islands and a big tree in the middle of a bridge as our reference points.
S-Turns Across a Road
Let’s say you’re a pilot that is coming in to land in a non-towered airport, when up ahead you see a plane that has not been communicating on the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, or CTAF for short (which is completely legal if all the requirements are met). Because the fundamental rule for Visual Flight Rules is “See and Avoid” i.e. look out for other planes, and don’t play tag with them, it is your job to maintain a safe distance from the other plane. Instead of calling it quits and turning around, you can perform a 360 (remember turns around a point?) or you can try doing some S-turns.
S-turns are 180s along a straight road or rail road tracks. This allows you to increase the time it takes you to get to the end of the “road” or more typically the runway. Skip and I completed 4 S-turns before I started to feel nauseated.
Here is a good example of S-turns.
Skip told me to pop open the windows and get some fresh-air. Going 120 Knots (About 130 mph) I opened the window, I think the sheer excitement of opening the windows at that speed cured my nausea. I’m sure the fresh air helped. He also introduced me to the autopilot to help fly the plane while I shed the nausea.
We start heading back to Page Field. The clouds don’t look any better. Skip makes contact with the Air Traffic Controller and he clears us to land on Runway 31. I repeat back the call to ATC. I still feel like the plane is getting ahead of me when we’re coming in to land. Good thing Skip is still there.
Here is a picture of where I flew during this lesson. The GPS track is not very accurate. This has to do with a few things. The cloud coverage that we had that day interfered with my iPhone GPS. The App that I use only updates every few seconds so it doesn’t get very detailed tracks, especially during the turns.
I’ll be trying out a new app, and on a new phone. Let’s see how those GPS Tracks look like.
Next flying lesson we’ll be practicing slow flight. Make sure to sign up to receive the next post in your inbox.
Until Next Week. Happy Flying!
Just the numbers:
Total Hours: 2.7
Total Dual: 2.7
Total Solo: 0.0