Flying Training

Lesson 7: Stalling 1

Sunday 4 December 2005 at 11.00am with Kerry Scott in Citabria VH-RRW

Weather was sunny and warm, with the wind from the NW. Turbulence was forecast below 5000 feet. Some higher cloud, but none at our level.

I was lucky to go flying this weekend as yesterday's planned lesson at 2.30pm was cancelled due to strong winds and today the instructors were to fly to Iandra Castle. However the strong winds cut the power to the castle meaning there was going to be no hot food and no water, so the trip was postponed till February. Their loss was my gain as I was able to get in two lessons today, covering low-speed flight, stalling (from every angle it seemed) and a demonstration of a full spin with recovery.

The boys all came down with me again and made camp under a tree. They were issued with a rug, water, biscuits and sunscreen, and for amusement had books, the portable goals and a soccer ball. I think Cameron spent most of his time asleep.

We had RRW again. I carried out the preflight checks but didn't spot the split seal on the left fuel cap (more on this later). We had a short briefing and then climbed in and started up. The ATIS reported runway 24 in use, with a right-hand circuit and a maximum crosswind component of 8 knots. We taxiied to the run-up area for runway 24 (watch those signs!) and did the run-up checks. Kerry took me through the radio call I was to make when ready and we taxiied to the runway hold point, stopping well short. The call was, "Camden Tower, Romeo Romeo Whisky, Citabria, ready at runway two-four for crosswind departure to training area with Charlie." I'm assured that Charlie is not instructor's code for a dumb student, but is the ID for the latest ATIS, so it ensures that the pilot has the latest information on weather and airfield. Crosswind departure here meant we were going to make a right turn once clear of the 3nm boundary and head north to an open area to perform the exercises.

When the tower gave us the takeoff clearance I read back the instruction and taxiied out to the runway, lining up on the centreline. I had the stick for takeoff while Kerry took the rudder again but had me cover the pedals to see how small the corrections were. Throttle full forward and we were off, with the stick forward within a few seconds to raise the tail. I could feel that Kerry's rudder corrections were 'little and often'. When Kerry said we were at flying speed (which is around 55 kts - check) I pulled the stick back slightly and we were airborne. Almost immediately the wind blew us left of the runway centreline and from reading the KPIs for the next lesson I know now that the idea is to pick a couple of distant markers on the centreline and use them to keep in line.

We climbed at 65-70 kts to 1300 feet and turned right once at 3nm (which was just past the river). We set course for a point left of the Mayfield inbound reporting point and climbed to 2000 feet initially, then turned west and climbed to 4500 feet. Kerry asked me to tune to the area frequency and I found it rather hard to hold the plane straight and level with the left hand while tuning the radio with the right. The left hand doesn't get much practice with the stick on the Citabria because it's normally on the throttle.

Kerry demonstrated a full stall first, by reducing speed to about 70kts (carby heat to hot), trimming straight and level and then reducing the throttle to idle while holding the nose up. The stall horn went off at around 50-55 kts but the plane was still flying down to below 50 kts before the nose dropped. Recovery was to relax the back pressure on the stick and push the throttle full forward then set carby heat to cold. At the same time the rudder was used just to hold the nose on a point on the horizon. We lost about 200 feet in altitude. Kerry pointed out that RRW doesn't usually drop a wing on the stall, but WKM (the orange Citabria) does. For good measure Kerry demonstrated the wing drop by using rudder at the stall. Correction is by straightening up using rudder before applying stick forward and full power.

She then demonstrated an incipient stall. The idea here is to catch it before it actually stalls and to recover (in the same way) without losing any height.

The last demonstration was to show how hard it is to actually stall this aircraft. To do this Kerry trimmed full back and released the controls, letting the aircraft fly itself. Of course it reared up, then dropped its nose, basically recovering itself before the actual stall. Kerry let this repeat three times to ram home the lesson that the pilot actually has to cause the stall by holding back the stick. This felt much like a fairground ride.

Now it was my turn to recover from a full stall. It all felt extremely unnatural, allowing the nose to rise until it was basically pointing at the sky, then holding it there with the stall horn blaring until we actually started to fall out of the sky. A couple of times I didn't push the throttle forward and Kerry had me repeat the exercise until I got it right. As the throttle was pushed forwards the engine coughed and spluttered but it didn't ever feel like it was going to stop. Kerry suggested that 2/3 forwards might be enough to recover without upsetting the engine [or apply full throttle slightly more slowly - 2 May 2006].

Then it was time to practice incipient stalls - the idea here being to recover without losing height (obviously desirable when close to the ground, eg on landing). I didn't get this right at first, because I was holding the stick too far fowards, basically putting us into a dive. Kerry was calling out, "Hold the nose on the horizon," but I didn't realise that she actually meant hold the stick further back than I was doing. In a powered aircraft pushing the throttle forward is a very large part of the recovery, so the stick doesn't have to be pushed forward as decisively as it would be in a glider.

Anyway, we carried out the recovery again and again until I got it right. In between stalls and incipient stalls I flew climbs, turns and climbing turns to Kerry's instructions, keeping us basically north-south on the western edge of the training area (but not over the mountains). I also had to keep a lookout for other traffic and run through the pre-aerobatic check list: HASELL (Height, Airframe (clean), Security (harness, no loose objects), Engine (instruments in green), Location (not over a heavily built-up area) and Lookout (minimum 180° and preferably a 360° turn - I did at least one of the latter, but Kerry would have been happier if I hadn't lost 200 feet in the process).

As usual it seemed all too soon before it was time to return. Kerry had me retune the radio (while she flew) and check the ATIS before making an inbound call from Bringelly - "Camden Tower, Romeo Romeo Whisky, Citabria, is Bringelly, 2000 feet, inbound with Charlie". ATC's instructions were to report again over Oran Park, and I read them back - "Report at Oran Park, Romeo Romeo Whisky."

I descended to 2000 feet over Oran Park and made that call, and we were given permission to join a right hand circuit and follow a Cessna on final. We had to find the Cessna (hence the eyesight test!) and respond.

Kerry had me descend and line up on the runway, but with the nose pointed slightly into wind, and she made the landing. I taxiied back to the parking area and turned it around on the grass beside a Cessna. We ran through the ROARS checks: 1000rpm; oil temp & pressure in green; amps positive (barely); radio off; check magneto switches to ensure they're earthing. Then mixture to fully lean, all switches off from left to right and exit the plane after noting the time on the Hobbs meter. Controls were tied back and rear seat harness fastened.

After returning the headphones I took the ladder and dipped the tanks. It was mystifying to find that the right tank was almost more full than before the flight, while the left tank was almost empty, and certainly down below 20 litres. I noticed at that point that the seal was split (I hadn't noticed before the flight) but I didn't connect this with the missing fuel. When I reported the situation to Rob he made the connection immediately and Brian fitted a new seal for the afternoon flight.

Kerry grabbed a quick lunch before taking a student on a navigation exercise to Bathurst in WKM. I collected the boys and we drove into Camden for lunch. I'd already decided to take both stalling lessons with Kerry as she had assured me that the next lesson was "Heaps of fun!"