Wednesday, 21 August 2013

It’s all about the numbers

After my last slow flight and stalls lesson I was feeling pretty confident about things. So much so that I badgered Bob for a solo lesson pretty much straight after. I wanted to get out there and have a go on my own. We arranged for a flight on Monday evening, slotting it in before a VOR review lesson and sim flight for RTH.

The predicted conditions looked perfect 6 knots right down runway 26. Yes, perfect light winds down my favourite runway; no chance of a 15 minute orbit there, straight in is the standard approach for 26.
I was fairly busy at work and didn’t really stop to look at the weather again for a while. I pulled up the NOTAMS and saw that there wasn’t anything to worry about and got on with my day. I scooted out of work a tad early to ensure I didn’t get snarled up in the massive construction that has ripped up half the transit system and then I pulled up the live runway data.

Hmm, that’s not good.  A steady 10 knot crosswind (almost at 90 degrees). I monitored the situation carefully and struggled to recall what the school’s limits for solo student flights were. By the time I got to the ferry I was looking at a steady crosswind component of anywhere from 9-13 knots with gusts up to 17. The bizarre thing was that the TAF was still calling for a gentle 6 or so knots*.
Bob arrived back with his previous student and we chatted for a while, the three of us. Then we got down to the business of discussing the flight plan.  We looked over the wind data and came to the inevitable “challenging but not impossible” conclusion.

I hate being in this position, numbers on a screen don’t mean much to me. I don’t have the experience to match the numbers up to actual flying conditions. Conscious of a number of facts I tried to make a decision.  Would I get out to the practice area and not be able to get back (my biggest fear at the moment)? Was I being overly cautious (again a large concern of mine)? I struggled to decide, the problem is that Bob’s role really isn’t to make these decisions for me anymore. He was very careful not to decide for me. As PIC I need to start making these decisions myself. I need to establish my own personal limits and I need to realise that my personal limits will probably change as I gain more experience and confidence.
Eventually Bob summed up the conditions for me as about an 8.5** out of 10 challenge wise.  Eventually we agreed to do some dual circuits with the possibility of me doing a solo flight to Claremont afterwards if I felt up to it.

Long story short, I threw it around a few times, felt how challenging it was. Coped, not my prettiest landings but salvageable for sure.  Decided not to go solo but maximise the use of the crosswind time to really get some good solid experience in. I noticed a few things, we switched between runway 24 and 26. That 20 degrees made all the difference, the landing was noticeably easier on 24 than 26. The problem is that 24 has a tricky approach, that requires you to avoid drifting sideways into the financial core of downtown.  I don’t like it but I usually manage ok. Before this flight I’d a tendency to avoid it (despite having done my first solo on it), perhaps now I realise just how much difference those 20 degrees can make.
It was worth it and I don’t regret my decision. Not like last time where I chickened out and knew it. This time I think I made the right call. I even questioned RTH about it on the way home. I asked “if it was only your third time out to the practice area and the winds were doing that, what would you have done?”

He reassured me that he would have come to exactly the same decision that I had. I still wasn’t convinced, “but you’re so confident,” I said “all through our trip to St Catharines. I was worried about the visibility and the gusting winds. You knew it would be fine. You knew you could handle it. I’m never going to be that confident.”
His answer surprised me a little and forms the basis for my next post “let me put it this way; all that stuff with the VOR navigation. You were Ok with it, what we were doing, yes?”

I replied that yes indeed I was, “I wasn’t.” he replied. And that's a story for another time.



* Of course, within an hour of me landing. That’s exactly what the damn winds did!

** 8.5 out of 10 on the challenge scale equalled about a 8.5 on the Richter scale for several of my landings as well.



1 comment:

  1. Good solid command decision. For what it's worth I would have done exactly the same thing as you did.

    It's one of those insidiously clever things instructors do, they don't make the decision for you, they just either allay or play on any doubts in your mind until you come to the conclusion they want.