I’ve been too busy to fly much lately; my two oldest sons came for separate vists for a week each, during which time I didn’t get to fly. Now that my schedule is normalizing a bit, though, I was eager to get up and knock some of the rust off. I had my usual ride, 191TG, booked for a couple of hours Thursday afternoon. The weather was good: about 30°C, wind 340° at 10kts, and clear skies. I took off, did a right Dumbarton departure, and went to the practice area to work on my steep turns: not necessarily because my performance is bad, but because they’re fun, and I figured I could use the practice. My turns went well; in fact, I learned that if you’re maintaining the correct altitude, you’ll feel a bump as you end your turn because you’re colliding with the wake of turbulent air left by your turn. This is exactly identical in theory, and nearly so in sensation, to what happens when you steer back over the wake generated in a motorboat.
After a few terms, I headed back to Palo Alto to shoot a few landings: a total of six, all of which were very good. As I made my way around the pattern, I reflected on something that is often invisible to non-pilots: the relationship between pitch, power, airspeed, and altitude. I’ve mentioned before that in the pattern, you control airspeed with the amount of upward or downward pitch attitude, and you control altitude with the amount of power you add or remove. For example, suppose that as you approach the traffic pattern, you’re traveling at 100 knots and are at 1500′. Pattern altitude is 800′. The natural instinct of most people would be to pull back on the throttle to slow down, then to nose the aircraft down to lose altitude. Instead, you reduce power and pitch up, adjusting both the amount of power and the amount of pitch to hit your desired speed and altitude.
Even after you get used to this counterintuitive process, there’s something else to remember: these four aspects are all interrelated! Suppose you want to change your speed but hold your altitude, so you pitch up. As the aircraft slows, it will also tend to lose altitude, so you may have to adjust the amount of power you have in to maintain the altitude you want. Most aircraft have elevator trim that can be adjusted to keep the airplane’s pitch attitude level, so the pattern phase becomes a dance of adjusting pitch (both manually and with trim) and power as necessary to get the desired airspeed and altitude. Meanwhile, of course, you must maintain the correct position relative to the runway, adjust for any wind (because remember, as your direction of flight changes, the wind will push you in a different direction), watch for other aircraft, talk to the control tower, deploy the flaps… the list goes on. I finally feel like I am able to multitask effectively in the pattern.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that some knucklehead snatched my headset, and this was my first flight with its replacement. I’d seen the ads for Clarity’s Clarity Aloft headset, a skeletal passive-noise reduction (PNR) headset that uses foam ear tips to seal the ear canal against noise. As it happens, I have some similar earphones that work very well, so I was set to get a Clarity Aloft. Then I took the time to peruse the reviews at Aviation Consumer and found that they liked the Quiet Technologies Halo a bit better, plus it was less expensive– so I ordered one. This was my first flight with it, and it performed very well. It was much lighter and more comfortable than my Pilot Communications Liberty. The sound quality was excellent, as was the noise reduction, and I didn’t have any of the problems with mic placement that I did with the Liberty.
After my last landing, I put the plane away, went home, and packed my stuff, including the Halo and my logbook, for a trip to Huntsville. More on that later…