I haven’t been flying as much as I’d like this summer, partly due to the economy, but I’ve gotten up in the air a couple of times lately. Last week, I flew out to the edge of the Tordrillo Mountains, which are visible just about every day in the clear wintertime air, but are much more hidden in the summer.
The air was exceptionally clear the other day, so having never been that far west yet, I jumped at the chance to go exploring and get a closer look at the mountains that sit between the Aleutian Range and the Alaska Range. I set a course for Beluga Lake, 55 miles west of Anchorage, and then flew out and over the lower part of the Triumvirate Glacier, which drains in the lake, and then cruised around the areas west of Mount Susuitna.
Although the sky was clear, it was obviously filled with small patches of that warm, rising air that is so prevalent in the summertime, because I kept getting bumped upwards and had trouble holding a steady altitude. Since as a relatively new pilot, every flight is pretty much a learning experience for me, I took that as a standard summer lesson. I was also reminded about the constant need to diligently scan for traffic, even in the middle of the wilderness. I saw a couple of float planes out there, one of which I didn’t see until it was crossing a few hundred feet underneath me.
I’m also still getting used to the fuel injected 180hp Cessna 172S models that I’ve been flying, after learning in a couple of older 160hp 172’s. That extra power has had me coming in a little high and fast on some of my landings, but as with any type of flying, it will just take time to become proficient with that particular aircraft.
A couple of weeks ago, I did a few touch and go’s at Birchwood, one at Wasilla, and then landed on my shortest runway yet, the 2,400 foot long gravel strip out at Big Lake. I wouldn’t say that it was a textbook landing, I definitely came in a little fast and ate up some of the runway, but I knew I had enough room to get it down and I brought the airplane to a stop with plenty of gravel in front of me. 2,400 feet is still pretty long, it’s just not 4,000 feet. After taxing back, I did a very good soft field takeoff and headed back to Merrill.
Overall, I do think my landings are getting better. After having some recent trouble with floating and skipping, I’m finding myself better able to hold it level and bleed off the airspeed as I round out in my flare, and then touchdown just as the stall horn is going off. That’s pretty much what you want, right?