Sweating the Stall Stuff
Thus far I’ve never received a dual lesson with my instructor on a Sunday, as it’s his only day off. Today we managed to get up in the air on a Sunday afternoon for some instruction covering steep turns, stall recovery and spin prevention.
I’ve taken the approach with my instructor that one would take with their lawyer, honesty is the best option. The way I see it, the best way to receive good instruction is to make sure that my instructor knows what I’m feeling apprehensive about, so we can work through that apprehension instead of hiding it.
Truth be told, spins as a concept have terrified me, their predecessor: stalls, also give me the willies. A stall is when the airflow on the top side of the wing is disrupted, causing the wing to no longer produce lift. A spin however, is when one wing stalls more, drops, and the plane starts spiraling towards the ground.
The thought of getting into such a situation is daunting for me, the mental imagery of the ground spinning towards me in the windscreen isn’t a favorable one. I’ve been up front with my instructor on this front, and accordingly, today’s lesson we were going to work through it.
With a thorough briefing prior to the flight, we head to the parking ramp and I set to pre-flighting the Ugly Duckling. Everything looking good, we taxi out to 28R where I’m then to perform a soft-field takeoff. The general pattern of my pilot training has been such I’m never allowed to remain too comfortable for too long, flight time is too expensive to waste time piddling around within my comfort zone.
I managed to get us off the ground safely, but as was the case when I first started learning to take-off, my feet haven’t been doing the appropriate amount of work to keep things lined up.
Either way, I turn towards Mt. Diablo, climb to 1300ft until we’re clear of an Oakland Class C airspace shelf. Passing Lake Chabot, I initiate a climb, set the trim, and relax a bit.
When I left the office yesterday, my instructor told me “don’t get sick” when referring to the steep turns we were to be performing today. Given the type of person I am, I thought “like hell was I going to get queasy!” But also, given the type of person I am, I wasn’t going to take chances and made sure to eat my lunch earlier rather than later, just in case.
He demonstrates a steep turn, at 45-ish degrees and I can definitely feel the queasiness in my stomach. Clenching my jaw and tightening my stomach, I focus on where the horizon cuts through the plane’s cowl, making sure I know what “correct” looks like. One to the left, and immediately into one to the right.
Control is exchanged from the right to left seat and I start going into a leftward turn. Little bit extra power and back pressure to hold the turn properly, and there’s no queasiness. I’m not even sure there’s extra G-force until my instructor tells me to try to lift my arm from the throttle.
My theory on the lack of gastro-discomfort when at the controls is that my brain treats the airplane as an extension of myself, not too dissimilar to the perceptions one has when driving a car. “See the plane, be the plane” I can imagine my instructor quipping; it’s just a theory.
With the steep turns done to the right seat’s satisfaction, we climb to 5000ft to perform some emergency descents. I won’t dwell too much on these manuevers, suffice it to say, they’re fun. Similar to my joy in forward slips, there’s just something entertaining about getting a plane down fast.
The only thing left on the menu at this point are stalls and spin prevention.
Heading northwest, we enter a continuous stall manuever. Wherein I hold the yoke as far back as I can, the plane continuously stalls as we descend, and I keep the wings level by stomping on the rudder of the high wing, to prevent spins. Not having practiced stall recovery in a number of weeks, I could definitely feel the beads of sweat on my forehead as I strained to hold the yoke back, cautiously eyeing the horizon through the left side of the windscreen.
Urging me to let one wing drop a bit further before I stomp the rudder, I refused to give my instructor the satisfaction. “If I just keep these damned wings level, I’ll be fine” I think.
After enough altitude is lost, we terminate the exercise and start playing with navigation by compass, and identifying how utterly crap compasses are in airplanes. Sufficiently disgusted in the compass’ performance, we climb again to around 5000ft and start another series of continuous stalls.
Heading southwest this time, my level of perspiration unchanged, the plane is on the precipice of a stall and I hear “oh, this is going to be good!” from the right seat.
“Who says shit like that?” I think, or maybe I said it, I can’t remember.
The right seat gets its wish. I accidentally let one of the wings drop too low, I step on the right rudder, but we keep tilting to the left. I finally give the pedal a good stomping, the plane yaws back to the right and I dance around on the pedals getting us back to wings level. One or two more, and I get the point: stalled doesn’t mean out of control.
As we head back towards Hayward, he points out that my trajectory is a poor one, practically zero emergency landing areas below as I cross the hills between Dublin and Hayward. Another good point in an already jampacked lesson, I’m still working on my situational awareness, in addition to everything else important to fly safely.
During my approach, the steps to performing a short-field landing are explained to me. With a fantastic wind, straight down the pipe, I manage to perform a good short landing, and taxi off the runway to parking.
Done with the challenges for the day, my mouth dry and my shirt damp, we head back to the office to debrief.