July 20th, 2014
Total Hours: 19.5
My second week of flying has been a busy one. As I mentioned in the last post we bumped up the flight schedule to twice a day because we are so far ahead with the ground portion of training. It has been a real challenge processing new maneuvers and trying to polish the ones that I already know. Putting in twice as many hours it was easy to expect twice the improvement in ability. Instead the leveling off of my performance has been disconcerting. My instructor warned me of the steep learning curve that all pilots experience in the beginning and that by the time I reached the commercial portion of my training it would level off. However, I feel it has come much sooner and I would say that my first week of flying was the steep learning curve and the last one has already seen it level off.
To be fair I am an overachiever. I haven’t even reached twenty hours in a career that is measured in thousands and already I want to be an expert! While I am flying all of the maneuvers well enough, especially for the amount of experience I have, I want to fly them better. Precision is my goal and while I recognize that this will only come with time I am impatient. But I know that I have the capacity for the patience I need. In fact this week has taught me several things about my expectations and being patient.
In the beginning, far before I arrived at Mauna Loa, I was already imagining how quickly I could push through the certificates. Reading about the FAA minimums for each I would fantasize about how close I could come to hitting those numbers. Now I am reframing my thoughts to look at the big picture. The goal of my training is to reach 225 hours of flight time so that I can become an instructor. How many hours I spend on each certificate within that 225 hour bank is almost irrelevant. Let’s look at some examples.
While the minimum number of hours for a Private certificate in Part 141 is thirty-five the minimum for the Commercial is 150 hours. This means that even if I finished my Private with 35 hours (which I won’t) I would still need another 115 hours of training to complete the next step. In the Commercial phase there are new maneuvers to learn but much of the time is spent becoming more proficient, and more precise, with the maneuvers you’ve learned during your Private. So you can see that it doesn’t really matter if you spend extra time improving maneuvers before officially moving on to the Commercial.
Another example of using the completion number instead of the minimums comes when thinking about the first solo. The FAA minimum number of instruction hours before the first solo is twenty. But what is the real advantage to soloing with so few hours? While it may serve to boost a student’s confidence I’m not sure that there are any other benefits. Considering that a student completing her first solo with 30 to 35 hours would have an increased safety factor from more flight experience I think it’s clear that the real advantage comes from being patient.
So what have I been working on the last week? I continue to do all my flying around the airport working primarily on steep and normal approaches. We’ve added in several new maneuvers like max performance takeoffs, quick stops, and autorotations. While working on some of these maneuvers I’ve found that I am struggling with one thing in particular, keeping the correct attitude when banking (making a turn). Attitude, described simply, is the orientation of the aircraft in space. For example, the cruise portion of an airline flight would be considered a straight-and-level attitude. To maintain a straight-and-level attitude in the helicopter we use a sight picture from the cockpit. This is accomplished by lining the compass up with the horizon just like lining up gun sights on a rifle.
When banking an aircraft there is a tendency for the nose to come up or drop down. If the nose comes up airspeed is lost and altitude is gained. The opposite occurs if the nose drops. To prevent this we use the sight picture from the cockpit to keep a constant attitude while the aircraft is in a bank. The problem with using the compass for this sight picture is that it is not directly in front of the pilot. Because of this the compass rises or falls in relation to the horizon depending on the direction of the bank. I am trying hard to work out the proper sight picture for banks but thus far it is eluding me.
With approaches the complexity increases. Imagine a descending bank coming into the approach. The nose comes up and the helicopter slows down and gains a little altitude. After rolling out of the bank the pilot has to correct these trends instead of preparing for the approach. What started as a simple attitude problem during the final bank sets the pilot up to chase the aircraft instead of staying ahead of it. This greatly increases the workload and makes it much harder to focus on precision during the approach. During an autorotation the same things are happening but at a much faster pace. My bad banking has made itself apparent in the setup for my approaches and autorotations.
I hope to find a sight picture that will correct this issue but I know that it may just take time in the cockpit before I can recognize these subtle attitude changes before they get ahead of me. After almost two straight weeks of flying I was starting to feel some frustration about not knowing what to do to improve my banks. I hoped to get better advice from the instructors but they all say the same thing, “Keep the compass on the horizon.” This simplified answer leads me to believe that the solution will actually come from a feeling more than a sight picture. I guess this theory will be tested in the coming weeks, but in the meantime I decided to take a couple days off from flying and see if some reflection and relaxation will help. Other than this all I can do is keep practicing and continue working on my goal of precision.