Lesson 127
12 November 1999
0.9 hours

The AWOS said 2500 overcast, 10 miles, and calm.  I had the airplane for only 90 minutes.  (Dominon needs to buy more of those things!)  I'd planned on practicing slow flight and stalls and doing some landings, but with the ceiling at 2300 AGL, which kept me below 1800 AGL, it seemed prudent just to do a few landings and leave the rest for another day.

"Calm" was an understatement.  The air was perfectly calm.  There seemed to be no movement at all, and there was no turbulence or thermal activity, either, not a single bumplet.  The visibility really was about 10 miles--although it was just hazy enough to make finding things interesting at 1500 feet.  I left the pattern to the west and flew around for a few minutes doing standard rate and steep turns, just enjoying how easy it was today to hold the altitude in the honeysmooth air.  Then I headed for Petersburg airport but had trouble spotting it from 1500 feet MSL.  I got no reply from PTB UNICOM and there was no local traffic, and by the time I figured out which was probably the active runway, I saw that the rental time was running out fast, so I gave up and headed back to FCI for a few landings.

I'd been thinking about my recent landings and had decided that most of them had really been more like short field landings than normal ones.  For some reason, I'd been too high when turning final and had stayed too high until rather close to the runway--as if there'd been that invisible 50-foot obstacle to clear close to the threshold.  The landings were pretty good short field landings--except that I hadn't been thinking of them that way at all.  So today I took more care, and established just the right decent rate for the conditions, adjusting the altitude with very small throttle changes, coming in smoothly and at the right angle, flaring just right and holding it off holding it off holding it off until the nose was well up and it felt like landing that Citabria and the main tires touched down with hardly a sound and the nose wheel stayed up and finally eased itself onto the pavement. Ah.   Terrific feeling, landing like that when everything goes just right.  And to do it the same way each time--well, that was nice.  It was extra nice because I had my medical this morning, and everything's smooth in the world.

(This next part is a postscript that I'm writing somewhat later, even though I hate to mess up that original "everything's smooth in the world" ending.)

Another thing I'd been thinking about lately is elevator trim.  Compared to the Cessna 152, the 172 seems to really need plenty of trim adjustments, and I'd gotten pretty good at that.  But I discovered in the Citabria that if the power settings were right, there was hardly any need to adjust the trim.  Once it was trimmed for cruise, I could land, take off, climb, level off, cruise around the pattern, and land again, all without touching the trim.  There would be a little back or forward pressure required now and then, but mostly only during the transition phases.  But if I got the power right, the pressures were quite light at each transition.  Even flaring required little effort.  If the power wasn't quite right for the speed and the phase, however, then I had to trim--and retrim with each phase change.

So I tried to apply the Citabria experience to the 172 today.  I was careful to coordinate the power, the airspeed, and the flaps, and I found that it was relatively easy to land, take off, fly around the pattern, throttle back, and land.  Throttling back on downwind, for example, would require some back pressure to hold the nose up, and normally I'd trim at that point.  But as soon as the airplane had slowed into the white arc and I added 10 degrees of flaps, the need for trim disappeared.  I'd turn base and add another ten degrees, but that had little effect on the trim, and adjusting the airspeed and power generally kept the airplane on a good glide path at 65-70 knots.  When I was sure I had the runway made, I'd go to 40 degrees of flaps and pull the throttle back almost but not quite to idle (I tried several settings today), flare, throttle all the way back, and keep coming back on the yoke, keeping more or less a constant pressure as the speed and pressure dropped off.  The main gear would touch down just as the yoke was pretty much all the way back.  I'm sure this would seem elementary to most pilots--and every book on the subject gives similar advice--but today is when it really worked right for me and (probably because of the super-smooth air) I was able to pay close attention to what was happening.  I fooled with the trim on the first landing, but didn't touch it after that--and didn't need to.

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