One of my challenges I’ve set myself this year was to master the almighty Piper PA-28, and after cancelling several bookings due to the infamous British weather, finally a good flying day was forecast!
I arrived at the airfield early with my friend Bartosz. He booked a C-152 in the morning and has planned a trip for us to fly to Duxford near Cambridge, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t as good as forecast. The cloud base was around 800ft with miserable visibility. I couldn’t wait to be a passenger for the first time and experience flying from the right-hand seat! In the end we were forced to stay local and fly a few circuits.
After landing, it was my turn to fly the PA-28. I have booked G-BSCY, a 160hp Piper Warrior, and hired an instructor, Dan, for one hour of differences training. My plan was to go somewhere nearby for a coffee afterwards, but since the weather was still so bad I cancelled any cross-country intentions for that day. More circuits, here we come!
I’ve checked my logbook and discovered that I’ve already added up 10.5 hours of time in the PA-28 during my PPL training, so I wasn’t expecting this to be too hard. Just some time to get the ‘feel’ for the aeroplane. We invited Bartosz to ride along in the back which he did so he can learn some bits while I struggle to fly the aircraft. The first order of business was navigating the instrument panel. The ‘big six’ are located as usual, but many others were scattered around in different locations as I was used to from the C-152. After some time familiarising with the panel we went off for the first circuit.
Getting to grips with all the relevant numbers, rotation speed, VR, VX, VY and the likes, and a basic take-off briefing, we set off for the first circuit. Just before 500ft AGL, Dan cut the engine off. Great, thanks for that! Given that there is a ridge just south of the runway of about 200ft height, that left me with less than 300ft to find a field, completely out of the blue. Nose down, find a suitable field (there is only one really), all good, continue the climb. Time to get the heartbeat back to normal.
Except for different V numbers, a circuit is basically no different than when flying a C-152. Good to know. The landing checks include a fuel pump and fuel tank check where we need to switch to the fullest tank.
It becomes different as soon as the descent starts. Generally, Dan told me that on the base leg we want 80kts airspeed, then on final around 70-75kts, and over the threshold we should have 65kts on full flaps. A bit of getting used to, but manageable. The only thing I had to fight with after the flare was the enormous ground-effect of the PA-28. It just wouldn’t want to land. It was very tempting to put the nose down, and I noticed my hands twitching to do so, but I’ve resisted and waited. And waited. And waited some more. It felt like an eternity before we ran out of speed and lift for a nice touchdown. Makes me think about how carefully you want to handle your airspeed if you want to land on a very short runway!
Following that was a flapless landing, which went fine, before we practised power-off landings. I found those surprisingly difficult. On the first attempt I was miles too high, which tells me that those Pipers like to glide a lot. Dan told me a few lessons about energy management, basically that being too high (or fast) doesn’t hurt if you have no engine available, and how to get rid of the energy before turning the glide into a ‘normal’ landing. After three attempts I started to get the hang of it.
Another ‘normal’ circuit and we were done, and my brain felt quite squashed. Next time, if the weather permits it, I will do some navigation flying. In the meantime I make myself more familiar on the theoretical side of things, by reading this, which I find very interesting:
That’s all for now, keep on rockin’!