My plan was to practice slow flight, stalls, and short field landings. And why were these maneuvers on my mind today? Well...
I spent several evenings recently at a grass airport near here owned by two brothers and used by them and a third guy for a lovely 1946 Ercoupe and a SeaRey homebuilt amphibian. The runway is 2000 feet long--so they tell me, although it didn't seem quite that long when I was taxiing their SeaRey on it last week, getting the feel of a taildragger and grass. There are tall trees on one end and both sides. Naturally I got to wondering if I could get in and out safely in a rented Cessna 172. According to the 172's POH, I'd have a good 500 feet to spare--if I did everything right. This was more or less an academic exercise, of course, because the rental agreement says I have to get prior authorization to land on grass or on runways shorter than 2000 feet or at private airports. This one hits all three points, and I figure the chances of getting authorization aren't too good.
So why am I writing about this? There's a little more to the story. The SeaRey crashed on takeoff from that strip last Saturday, putting the pilot in the hospital with some 15 cracked ribs and a few other problems. Evidently the engine quit due to ingition failure (he'd just been working on the ignition) or (my guess, from hearing it quit a couple of weeks ago) fuel starvation. Anyway, that sort of put me off from trying to land a 172 there, authorization or no. All the same, it's a beautiful little airfield, with that east-west runway set in the trees and two hangars near one end, and I wanted to have a look at it from the air. So I flew to it today.
On the way at 2500 feet, I tried a few simulated rejected landings and slow flight. Did a power-off stall, too, just for good measure, and was pleased that they all went comfortably.
Now, finding a green grass runway in the midst of green farm fields, green lawns, and green woodlands, I've discovered, isn't all that easy. Fortunately, I'd set a GPS waypoint for it and therefore was able to fly directly to it. As I got closer I kept stopping down the scale on the GPS and all of a sudden the field was right in front of me. And it did look pretty short. I circled at 2500 feet and then thought I'd see how it would feel to make an approach. Of course, as soon as I turned away to decend to 1000 feet AGL, I lost sight of the field. (Surely there must be some slick trick that helps you keep a field like that in sight without spiraling down directly above it.) I watched the GPS and turned in to what I thought would be upwind today, with the wind from 330. Where IS that strip? Ah! I was already at midfield, close in. I hauled around onto what I thought might be crosswindand then turned downwind. Flying downwind parallel to the runway, I could see immediately that those "2000" feet went by awfully fast, and I also figured that 1000 feet AGL must be much too high for that short a field. Instead of turning base and setting up for a final approach that would have required climbing out over the tall trees at the upwind end of the runway, I opened the throttle and climbed out of there, feeling that I wasn't quite ready to try landing on that pretty little green field.
Back at Chesterfield County Airport, I did two short-field touch-and-goes--which,
because of the 15 knot headwind, were really short--and then called
it a day--another good day of flying.
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