Back in the skies8 min read

Well it has been almost 4 years since I had a flight lesson. About 6 years ago (I can’t believe it has been that long) I started a journey to acquire my private pilot license. A private pilot certificate requires 40 “hours” of training, but most pilots complete the training in about 55-60. I flew about 10 hours and got busy with other things (which seems to be my style) and didn’t fly for about 2 years. When I started again I flew about 25 more hours and got my “solo”. A solo is where you have reached the point where your instructor believes you have learned what it takes to safely fly alone in an area around the airport where you have been training. They sign off and you hit the skies alone for the first time. I remember how nervous I was, but at the same time it was exhilarating.

I would have proceeded to finish my training and get my license but there was one problem; stalls. As part of your flight training you have to practice “stall recovery”. A stall is where you put the plane into a situation where you lose “lift”. The two most common situations where this happens is takeoff and landing. When landing, you slow the plane to near stall speeds to put it on the ground as slow and smooth as possible. If you slow too much, the lift provided by the air across the wings will no longer be sufficient to support the weight of the plane and you will begin to sink (or fall out of the sky). On takeoff, the propeller (called “prop” for short) pulls the plane forward through the air which allows the increasing amount of air across the wings to create lift and allow the plane to “fly”. Until you reach a certain speed you will not have enough air passing over the wing to create lift. When you are taking off you have to be careful to keep your “attitude” (angle of the wings relative to the ground) mild enough to allow this process to take place, since MOST plane’s engines/props cannot create enough thrust to support the entire weight of the plane (fly straight upward) without help from lift created by the wings.

So, in some situations a pilot might slow the plane too much before landing and instead of adding a little power (“stepping on the gas” so to speak) they “pull up” and try to reach the runway without adding more power. At the point the lift created by the wings can no longer support the weight of the plane it begins to fall … and if not recovered, you crash the plane into whatever is unfortunate enough to be stationed prior to the runway. This type of stall is usually called a “power off stall” because you are operating with the engine at idle, since the idea is to slow the plane down, not speed it up. The simple solution to a power off stall is to add power (step on the gas). When simulating a power off stall you begin at a safe altitude (3200 ft for instance) and descend to a predetermined altitude that represents the runway (let’s say 2500 ft). When you reach 2500 ft you “flair” the plane as if landing but continue to “pull back” on the controls until you cause the plane to be in an attitude that no longer produces sufficient lift at that power level. When this happens, the plane sorta stops in the air and begins to “fall out of the sky”. Now it is not as bad as it sounds, it is more like “float” out of the sky. If you have any altitude you would push the controls forward which would cause you to descend, but would restore lift and limit your descent to one similar to that of an approach (coming in to land), and add power; problem solved, no big deal. The simulation of this, while it sounds scary, really isn’t. There is not much to it.

Four years ago when we were going to do stall training I was freaking out a little. We did the power off stall first and I was like “That’s it??”. “OK, now let’s do a power on stall” my instructor said. I thought “ok, this will be even easier!”. My instructor said “Well, they feel a little different.” Yea, you could say that.

A pilot might find themselves in the middle of a power on stall if they are taking off from an airport that has obstructions at the end of the runway; trees or a cell tower for instance. So maybe you took too long to “rotate” (lift off), or didn’t apply full power right away when you started your takeoff roll. In any case, something prevented you from being as far down the runway as you should have been, or you were not traveling as fast as you should have been. When you rotate and begin to climb you may be facing an obstacle that you are just not going to clear, so you “pull up” in an attempt to climb faster and clear the obstacle. Well, you only have so much power and the wings can only produce so much lift (the combination of which will be a limiting factor to how many “Feet per minute” you can climb or gain altitude. So, if your plane’s capabilities and current conditions only allow a 500 feet per minute climb and you have a 300 ft obstacle ahead and not enough distance to reach a safe altitude to clear it you are going to be an early christmas tree ornament. A pilot might “pull up, pull up, pull up!” in an attempt to clear the obstacle. Maybe they will clear it, or maybe they will lose lift and stall the plane. No matter what obstacle you are facing, the truth is you have to fix the loss of lift problem or you don’t pass GO and don’t collect $200. The solution is simple, lower the nose of the plane so the engine is producing more power than that needed to pull the plane forward and allow the wings to produce lift. You still have the obstacle to deal with but truthfully, you had that problem before you ever left the ground (you should have planned better, taken off sooner etc).

So to simulate a power on stall you pick an altitude that represents your runway (3000 ft for instance). You slow to just above stall speed (to simulate having just taken off from the runway) then you apply full power and pull up as much as you can. (like you are trying to fly straight up). The plane will lose lift and you will begin to fall like with the power off stall. The one major thing that is different is the engine is turning at full power. Well, unless you are in near perfect coordinated flight (too much to explain, but basically keeping the back of the plane perfectly lined up with the front of the plane into the direction you are traveling) the plane will dive off to one side (usually the right) when you stall. This is a VERY uncomfortable feeling! To make matters worse you may have the impulse to correct with ailerons (“turn the wheel”) which just completely mucks things up even more. The first time I did a power on stall everything went wrong, it was horrible and really freaked me out. When we got back on the ground I didn’t go back for almost 4 years.

It’s not that I was in danger, especially with my instructor in the plane. It just really really freaked me out. I don’t like roller coasters, or “butterflies”, and this was like “Disoriented Butterfly, the Ride”.

I started doing some real estate investing in Macon (GA), which I will try to talk about in another post when time permits, and realized that a plane sure would make that 4 hour round trip a lot faster and easier. I decided that I just needed to get over the fear and anxiety and get my stupid license already! So I contacted an instructor in Macon (Since that is where I spent most of my week days) and took a few lessons. We mostly did review stuff and were purposefully saving the stalls until I was comfortable. Things changed in my schedule that caused me to stop lessons in Macon, but I am scheduled to start again in Winder (which is where I previously did most of my training) next week.

SO, hopefully I will get going full steam ahead again now, will conquer the power on stalls, and have my license before you know it! Once I get my “private” I will continue to train for what is called an instrument rating which allows you to fly in inclement weather conditions. That is very important because in the event you travel some distance in the plane, and the weather changes before your return, you may be stuck there until it clears up. With an Instrument rating you have the knowledge, skill, and licensure to fly in less than “Visual Flight Rules” conditions. Then, I buy a plane, then I take everyone up for a flight. 😉

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