The First Solo

Finally it happened: I flew my first solo today. It is a very important step for every pilot. That day we had done more than 10 patterns with my instructor and 3 patterns with the examiner before I flew alone. The examiner was staying on the ground with a handheld radio. I was instructed that if he say “GO AROUND!”, I have to go around immediately. Fortunately, it did not happen.

My landings were perfect. I think that I never landed so great. Probably it is because the airplane is lighter with just one person aboard, or I simply tried to do my best.

I heard that one remembers it for the rest of life. I recorded it with my action cam, just in case. To be honest, I felt that I had not have time for worrying: checklists, runup, taxiing, before takeoff checklist, full power, acceleration, pitching up a little bit, acceleration, rotation, acceleration in a ground effect, climbing, brakes, after takeoff checklist, trim, climbing some more, flaps, trim, climbing, turn, one more turn just before this village, level off, power cruise, trim, before landing checklist, radio call, carb heat, turn before red building, maintaining altitude, reduce power keeping level attitude, speed for flaps, flaps 10, trim, check traffic on final, turn to final, flaps 20, nose down, radio call, flare, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up, keeping nose up…. Touchdown. Nice and smooth touchdown. Full power, carb heat off, flaps 10, acceleration, and do everything one more time except full stop instead of touch-n-go.

After landing I could not stop smiling. All day long =)

Land in Sight!

We fly a lot of aerodrome patterns. We do it in different aerodromes for a richer experience. My instructor is not totally assured in my flying, and so he does not want to let me fly solo now. Probably with the only instructor from the beginning it can be faster, but now we have what we have.

However I do not complain. Safety is the first priority. Additionally, I enjoy flying even patterns, and I am happy to see my confidence improve. Furthermore, I need 200+ hours for my commercial license, and it does not matter a lot whether I have 45 or 60 hours under my belt after private.

Controlled Airspace

Karlovy Vary is a very beautiful place. Lakes and buildings look fantastic from the altitude.

Today I flew to the control zone. I did not expect that the workload would be so high: the flight itself is almost the same except that I have clearances instead of advisories, but I felt somewhat uncomfortable. OK, possibly it is just the unfamiliar environment…

The controllers speak English much better than our tower. Actually our tower is not so bad compared to some airfields in the vicinity: sometimes they only speak Czech. I remember that I am in Czech, and I try to do my best, but I wish to see some more operators speaking the international aviation language (which is English), at least at a basic level.

Additionally we made some landings on the way there, it is a good practice for me. I am becoming more confident, and I make better and better landings even on sloped runways.

They Are So Different…

I enjoy exploring new aerodromes. They appear very similar, but they are not. Of course I say that only with my level of experience, but I think that it’s true for many pilots.

Today we flew circuits in an aerodrome with a grass runway. The runway itself is rather uneven and rough: firstly, it has a slope, and there are small bumps and hollows. Secondly, the grass is very uneven, and does not cover the entire runway. Actually there is no significant difference, but I still like concrete runways much more.

Here is the picture about how approach to a grass runway looks like:

Approach. Land. Go. Repeat.

I had a lot of landings on the grass. In fact, I had REALLY a lot of landings on the grass. Today I fly patterns on the aerodrome with a grass strip.

Today I made many landings. The main outcome is that finally I mainly fly the airplane than it flies me. I see where it is going to land, and at least I have proper feedback from the flight controls. At least the approach becomes stabilized. Previously it was more like “trying to aim to some point by any means, using all available flight controls”. Now I have to be more precise: the strip is shorter. I was pretty good in theory, but for the some reason it did not help a lot. Possibly the reason is that I mainly concentrated on an instantaneous correction without building a ‘big picture’.

Today I have a level-up: now I analyze my track during the approach and try to keep the straight paths really straight, and curved paths as smooth as possible. I use trim even in turbulent weather. I mainly set the flaps to the desired position for landing earlier instead of correcting a glide path by using flaps.

I am making progress. I perform slower than I wanted to, but I am moving on.

Navigation

Once again, I have a new instructor. I hope that this time he will stay with me until a checkride, because it’s fun to fly with different people, but there is a significant overlap between exercises. As a result I fly more hours. Of course, it is an experience, and those hours are credited to my total time, but I want to move faster.

We are finishing navigation flights and continuing practicing landings and stabilized approaches. The weather is great now.

Real Hang-Glider

Today I finally flew a real hang-glider after some days flying trainers. It was an aircraft with a 18-square-meters wing. The first impression is fantastic, at least I am in the middle of recommended weight limits! In Russia I flew only training hang-gliders manufactured by Aeros with a 16-square-meters wing, I am a little bit heavy for them. As I understand, Icaro makes hang-gliders with a 1-meter step wings. It is so cool to fly a hang-glider that perfectly fits!

After using training models with 21-square-meters wings I had to run much faster during takeoff, and act more aggressively during landing. However even with this wing I can takeoff with a nil wind.

The second new factor is a new harness. This one is used for flying, while previously I wore the one that is more suitable for running. To be honest, I did not see any real difference during takeoff and landing, but it is amazing in the air. The only drawback is that I have to take it off to carry the hang-glider back to the hill, and put it back on before takeoff.

I have to leave today, but I’d like to come back. There are a few places in the whole world with those incredible mountains, and where it is possible to fly in all seasons. I associate this place with a spirit of freedom. I think that later, when I will be older and calmer, I will have a strong desire to live in a such place. Therefore I just have to become older and calmer, find a pretty mountain and master my flying without an engine. However, it will be later. Now I have a lot of things to do, for example, finish my PPL 🙂

Coordinated Turns

What is required for a good landing on a pretty small landing area? One should correctly estimate an altitude, estimate wind and apply proper wind correction and make coordinated turns with a predictable altitude loss. Today I practiced those things, except for wind estimation which is easy because there are a lot of windsocks on the hill. Firstly do 45-degree turns, then 90-degree turns. The goal is establishing a proper course on an appropriate height, i.e., I should not lose substantial altitude before and during my turn. Then level the wings, flare and land.

Straight legs are much better, for both the glide path and horizontal projection. You can do good solid takeoffs even with a nil wind. Of course I understand that with a 16 wing I will still need to run much faster and longer. Landings are good, almost all of them are on the feet and with a proper wing stall. I am making progress 🙂

Italians in a Defender

I am going on with my hang-gliding path. Today I am flying a different hang-glider, also 21 sq meters, but more stiff sail. It is controlled much easier, but start is more difficult, and the flight is lower.

I made 24 exercises “takeoff-flight-landing” straight ahead, and 4 flights with a 45-degree turn. This hang-glider is heavier, and it is harder to bring it back to the starting point, but it is much more predictable. But in flight a feel that he is less laterally stable: once you turned, it keeps turning (unlike “target” hang-glider which I flew before in Russia). To stop turning you should apply a control force to turn in the opposite direction. Like for an airplane.

I also flew with my instructor in a tandem flight. Also 21-meter hang-glider. I feel that there are A LOT of thermal flows here. Almost everywhere. Of course I cannot find and use them so great as my instructor does. And he even does not use a vario!

They use Land Rover Defender to bring hang-gliders uphill. So strange feeling in that ride: a lot of Italians, they are constantly speaking (as usual, with expression!). I think that it was 3-4 parallel conversations. I don’t speak Italian now, so for me it is like a white noise, but the feeling is pretty funny 🙂

They have a TINY landing spot here! Initially I did not even understand that that tiny glade is a landing spot! It is really a spot! The approach is almost as in an airplane, almost standard full-rectangle circuit, but the landing… In a hang-glider in any case you have only one attempt. And here it is especially important. I saw somebody landed uphill though, but it is a totally different skill and it should be practiced. At least to overcome psychological barrier: it is not easy to fly directly to the ground (more speed, steeper angle), and then abruptly stall the wing.

I remember Crimea and Klementieva mountain near Koktebel. There are kilometers-width landing area, and the landing approach is simply “making turns to decrease distance from hill, and trying not to hit any bush”. Here it is impossible, course precision should be near perfect. I was never trained to overfly a landmark previously, and here it is an essential skill: without that it is impossible to make a good approach. I can relatively well fly towards some external reference, but I am really bad on flying directly over a landmark. Previously I just had to stay in a dynamic flow with a minimum altitude loss in turns. And now I have to be really precise. It is a noticeable lack of experience.

But in overall my flights are more smooth, takeoffs and landings are better, and muscles are stronger 🙂

Without an Engine

Temporarily I fly without engine. I came to Italian hang-gliding school.

I don’t have a license. I don’t know anything about terrain and aerology of that place. I do no fly regularly, and I did not fly almost a year. So, I am starting from a basic exercises.

The training approach is somewhat different here. Initially you run with a 21-square-meters hang-glider. The sail is very light, like the one used in paragliders. It’s very easy to take off, but relatively hard to control it: it flies by itself.

I start with a very low angle of attack. It means that I try to gain more speed, but I don’t lift off for a long time, which is bad. I simply don’t let it fly for a long time! I used to fly 16-meters hang-glider, which requires more speed on a take off. The flight itself is very unstable. But landings are pretty good. I spent a lot of time on them previously 🙂

They don’t put the hands out of the downtubes if the landing seems to be on the wheels. Possibly that is because the landing spot is totally flat without any rocks, bushes and plowed furrows.

Also they don’t use radio for initial training. The instructor just stands near the landing spot and shows turn direction (if needed). And during the landing he is usually rather close, and can just speak loudly.

The training itself is possible during almost the whole day: the training hill is between mountains, and there are neither dangerous turbulence nor strong winds even in the afternoon. Ideal place to training. I remember my training in Crimea, where I had to wake up at 5 in the morning…

There are two trees near the landing spot, “to be more precise”. Once I flew directly to the tree, happily it was pretty far away. Don’t look at the obstacle, because if you do it, it becomes a reference point 🙂

Totally I have some crazy number of 2-3-meters-height flights during the day, definitely more than 20. I used to practice it 5-7 times during my previous training… My take off is much better, my flight is much more stable 🙂