Alot has happened in the past few months, but unfortunately, I’ve been too busy to sit down and write about it.
Back in February, on my birthday in fact, I surpassed my 100 hour mark. It was a cold, clear winter day and so I took the 172 up towards the Alaska Range and flew over the Lower Kahiltna Glacier to the point where it meets the Pika Glacier. I had done a rock climbing trip on the Pika glacier three summers ago, so it was a really meaningful experience to log my 100th hour while looking up the Pika at the granite towers that we had climbed during our trip.
I actually flew quite a bit this winter, but then a welcome stretch of work hit in March and I found myself playing photographer much more than pilot during the early part of Spring. Once April and May hit, though, I’ve been back up in the air quite a bit, learning more than ever.
A couple of weeks ago, I got my high performance endorsement in the C182, and since that time I’ve been logging some valuable HP time while flying right seat in a C170, C185, Maule M-5 and a Beaver. The the Beaver is an amazing aircraft to fly. For as big as it is, the thing is so docile in the air. It steers so gently, like a Cadillac with power steering, and once you get it trimmed correctly, it pretty much just flies itself.
The main thing with High Performance aircraft is learning how to manage the power during flight. As with any airplane, you don’t want to make any sudden changes, and as you do adjust power, you want to anticipate your intentions and make gradual changes in a specific order. Basically, when adding power, you advance the props first and then the throttles. When decreasing power, you decrease the throttles first and then the props. Following this method will be easiest on the engine.
Another day while doing touch and go’s in the 172 at Birchwood with an instructor, he had me practice an engine failure after takeoff procedure. He warned me beforehand, an then pulled the power at 600′ AGL off of runway 19R. After my “Oh shit” moment, I quickly pushed the nose forward to establish best glide and then turned the aircraft back to the runway. I made it in plenty of time, even with full tanks and two people in the plane.
Having flown with a number of different pilots and three different instructors recently, I’ve heard many different theories regarding engine failure procedures. One instructor had me establish different options for different altitudes, which might include a turn back towards the airport. One stressed not to turn back at all under 1,000′ AGL, which is often echoed by the Air Saftey Foundation. I can see that beign a very safe guideline, but in real life, that may not be the best option. Turning back may be the safer thing to do in certain situations, so it was very good practice to actually practice that firsthand with an instructor in the plane.
As summer approaches here in Alaska, I’m starting to shop for airplanes, and so far I’ve looked at a couple of Aeronca Super Chiefs and have called on some other small fabric two seaters. They look like great little planes and are certainly in my price range. I’ve also considered Cessna 140’s and have even called on a couple within the state. I think if I were to get a 140, though, I’d probably want to find one with a slightly bigger engine than the stock C85. Having talked with alot of people, it seems as if that would be a better option for the kind of backcountry flying I want to do.
Although I still have alot to learning to do before I would attempt anything resembling an off airport landing, flying with friends in their own planes and landing on gravel bars and beaches has certainly inspired me to start moving in that direction.
Although one airplane owner said with a smile, “buying an airplane is never a good idea,” the way I see it, it’s only money and you only live once. I just don’t see myself being a pilot in Alaska and not having my own place at some point. I just want that point to be sooner than later.