A family vacation can only entertain me for so long before I need to go flying again. Fortunately I had arranged to go flying with an instructor while on vacation in central Florida. For some reason or another I found an instructor foolish enough to go up with me for a couple hours out of Sun State Aviation.
The night before my flight, I ended up closing out Disney World with my niece, getting into bed near one in the morning. With an early flight in the morning, this might have been a poor decision on my part. Whatever drowsiness I woke up with was gone by the time I stepped out into the heat.
When I met with my instructor-for-a-day we reviewed a bit of my background, what I'm used to, the aircraft I've been flying and what we wanted to accomplish in our mission for the day. As much fun as a pleasure flight would have been, it was important to keep working on the fundamentals from my previous few flights.
We set out to depart from Kissimmee Gateway Airport (KISM) and head down to Winter Haven's Gilbert Airport (KGIF) to do some pattern work. As I walked out onto the tarmac to pre-flight N452MK, a whole different Cessna 172SP than I'm accustomed to was waiting for me. Instead of 3 fuel sumps, 452MK had 13 (5 each wing, 3 in the belly). In place of a primer, carburetor and carb heat, this 452MK had a fuel injection system which I've never used before. The panel layout was different, the engine idle speed was different, the trim was different, everything was just different.
Pre-flight took longer than it usually does back in Hayward, but after we got underway, I made the call-up to ground and we started putting along towards the run-up area for runway 15.
A combination of both airspace, KISM sits under Orlando International's (KMCO) Class Bravo airspace, and lower clouds kept us cruising at about 1500ft, give or take a 100 feet student pilot buffer. A few miles out from I make the call on Winter Haven radio that we're in-bound. Like my flying in Tracy, Winter Haven is an uncontrolled airport meaning all radio calls and locations are to be self-announced.
Approaching the field, I decide to let my instructor perform the radio calls for me in order to focus on my pattern and approach work. All the while keeping in mind that I'm sweating bullets, and not entirely because of the humidity and heat.
First approach on runway 23 and I'm higher than I want and not really where I want to be, I decide to go-around. Without my usual instructor in the plane, I'm finding myself much more conservative with my comfort zone.
Circuit number two is looking better, I get my mental checklist processed properly on the base leg of the pattern (where's the carb heat in this thing!) and execute an adequate landing. Certainly nothing to brag about, but I made it onto the runway without scaring the hell out of the poor sap who agreed to instruct me for the day.
We're cruising down the runway and he's urging me to make certain taxiways which I think I'm too fast to make, so generous braking must be applied. In the ugly Duckling, the brakes have had issues on a number of our missions so I'm terribly reluctant to use my brakes. The brakes in 452MK were definitely functional, and wouldn't lock up nearly as easily as the Duckling's.
We taxi off the runway and taxi back over to the start of 23. This plane's high engine idle RPM means taxiing faster than I'm used to and braking far more than I'm accustommed to.
Lining up for take-off and everything is looking good, flaps up, mixture rich, trim set for take-off. Max power, liberal application of right rudder and we're accelerating down the runway. This plane springs into the air, SSSSQUEEEERRRRRRRRRNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN, the stall warning horn goes off, I lower the nose and we gain some airspeed and continue our climb.
"The stall warning horn on take-off is undesirable" quips the right seat. Well "no shit" I think quietly to myself
We enter the pattern again and diagnose why we leapt off the runway. Turns out the "take-off trim" setting in this aircraft lifts the nose up in quite an undesirable manner, combined with the back-pressure from one sweaty student pilot, and it's no mystery why the stall warning horn went off.
Second approach is looking good, coming in a bit high (a recurring problem for me), bit of a forward slip to tear off some height, final round-out is decent, sqqquuueeeerrnnn goes the stall warning horn and we touch down. Not a bad landing! Except for being halfway down the runway.
Power settings, I will conquer you.
On the next take-off, I set the trim a bit more nose-down and get the post-rotation lift I'm more comfortable with. Another adequate, not great, not bad landing and we're wrapped up at KGIF and it's time to head back out to Kissimmee. The time cruising between the airports gives us the opportunity to discuss some of my rudder deficiencies in counter-acting left-turning and right-turning tendencies. He even suggested and demonstrated an exercise he uses to help his students.
As we closed back in on KISM's airspace, I resumed control of the radio and entered the pattern for landing. In unfamiliar surroundings, my ground references for the rectangular track of the pattern are gone. As a result I rolled out on my final approach far too early and "dragged it in." Descending towards the runway, close to my flare some cross-wind pushes us to the left of centerline (nooo!) and my drift correction was insufficient such that my instructor jumped onto the controls and drifted us right back onto centerline just as the right wheel touched down.
We taxi back to parking, go shutdown the plane and push it into it's parking spot and head inside.
Overall, the experience was definitely worth the effort and stress of the lesson. With so many new things thrown in front of me, I was certainly challenged on a number of levels. I think I'm far enough along in my flight training to be able to identify some of my own problems I'm having in the pattern. Whether it's power settings, too high of a round-out over the runway, too much speed carried into the flare, etc. In a number of the cases, my instructor was silent, and I was calling out the faults from my previous run, with occasional suggestions from the right seat. To his credit, he also refused to answer some of my stupider questions during the flight. I would ask "figure I should do X?" to which he'd respond with "you're in control, it's your call." Annoying in the moment, but I think it's the right call the make as an instructor, because as I move forward, it is my call and I need to make the decisions and learn for myself. To a certain extent, the instructor is a safety net for those decisions, but the judgement call should be mine to make more often than not.
Having lost some water and wallet-weight over the preceeding 2 hours, I thanked my instructor for going up with such an unknown like me, a remote student who's in town for the week, and headed back to the house.
The 20 minute drive was just about enough time to mentally review the flight, assess what I did well, what I didn't do well and what I should work on next flight.
I can now highly recommend flying while on vacation, especially if you can manage to turn it into another training opportunity and learn something new.
Just make sure you stay hydrated, it's hot out there.