Arrow Checkout Part 1

I’d been trying for some time to get a checkout in the Club’s new Arrow. With its retractable gear and variable pitch prop, it required ‘differences’ training and a log-book signoff before I can fly it. There is only really one Club Instructor handling conversions on to it, and synchronising our schedules, aircraft availability (the day before my first attempt at flying it, the gear failed to fully lock down when the Instructor was flying a test flight) and weather proved to be particularly difficult! I finally managed to line up all the dots and get a flight in her today.

The weather in the morning was far from ideal, but the forecast showed that the low cloud and drizzle should clear. The only issue was a forecast for relatively high winds, so we arranged to meet at Kemble and see how things looked.

I’d had a full brief on the changes on one of my earlier aborted attempts to fly, so had a quick ‘refresher’ with Roger along with a brief on what we would need to cover on the conversion flights. The hope was that we could cover it all in a couple of flights and get my signed off to fly the aircraft ‘solo’ after that.

Once in the aircraft, there was some initial fumbling over an unfamiliar checklist (not least the start procedure which calls for mixture at idle when cranking the engine, before advancing to full rich when it fires). Roger had warned me that the rudders were a little stiff on the ground, so I left the taxy checks until we reached the ‘D Site’ apron where power checks are carried out (the taxyway between Alpha 2 and Alpha 1 was closed again – although the FISO didn’t seem to realise this!).

While doing all this, the reason for my carrying out the power checks in the wrong place on the last flight became clear. I’d left the Golf taxyway to the left of where I should have, so when I turned right it meant I was indeed blocking the ‘correct’ exit from the taxyway.

Once all checks were complete and we lined up, I held the aircraft on the brakes as I applied full power do demonstrate the RPM governor working correctly. However, the aircraft was raring to go, and began to creep forwards, so Roger told me to just let the brakes off, and we accelerated down the runway. Was careful to remember that the ASI reads in MPH in this aircraft (as opposed to knots as I’m used to) and rotated at around 85 MPH. The crosswind was obvious as we began to climb, requiring a significant crab angle to maintain the runway centreline.

Once airborne and with no usable runway ahead I dabbed the toe brakes before raising the gear. It is soon obvious that the gear mechanism is working correctly, as you can feel the nose wheel retraction through the pedals. Once at a safe height, the RPM was brought back to 2600, and the mixture set to get a fuel flow indication of 13 PSI.

We headed out to the West from Kemble, switching to Bristol once we were clear. There was some fluffing of the initial call to Bristol, as the Controller surprised me a little. Usually, after a ‘Bristol Radar, G-AZWS request Basic Service’ initial call, the response would be ‘Pass your message’. However, on this occasion the Controller replied ‘Basic Service you have, pass your message’. I then passed all my details again, before (un-necessarily) again asking for a Basic Service.

We carried out some basic handling once the aircraft was configured for cruise (level off, allow it to accelerate up to about 120 MPH, reduce power to 24″ MAP, RPM to 2400, set mixture to get maximum exhaust gas temperature) followed by some climbing and descending. When climbing, the first thing to do is increase mixture, set 2600 RPM and then apply power to climb. The reverse is true when levelling off or descending – reduce power, set 2400 RPM then lean for the correct mixture.

We carried out some stall drills, with gear both retracted and extended. The only real thing to remember when recovering is to ensure that all three levers are pushed fully forward (assuming the stall occurred in a cruise configuration with mixture and RPM both pulled back). The stalls were relatively docile (it’s still a PA-28 after all) and the recovery wasn’t really an issue.

After this, we carried out some simulated circuits. Initially starting at 5500 feet, carry out downwind checks (including slowing, lowering the gear, setting RPM) then descend on ‘base’ and final. As we approached 4500 feet Roger called for a ‘Go Around’ which involved basically pushing all three levers forward, establishing the aircraft in the climb before raising the gear and finally the flaps.

I’d obviously been expecting a simulated gear failure at some point in the flight, but Roger fooled me slightly by pulling the Circuit Breaker for the gear pump during the circuit, meaning that it didn’t retract correctly on the Go Around. I failed to notice this, and once we were correctly climbing he asked me to level off and then ‘check you gear indication again’. All three greens were still lit, and this is a clear indication of me seeing what I expected to see, rather than seeing the actual indication on the gear lights.

Roger asked me what I’d do should this ever happen (the gear fail to retract on takeoff). I decided initially that I’d probably attempt to land immediately, but Roger said that if recycling the gear got it to retract correctly he’d probably continue. The aircraft could easily be flown with the gear down with probably a decrease in speed and an increase in fuel consumption, so if this occurred when away from base it would still give the option of returning to base in this condition.

We then demonstrated the difference in glide performance with the prop in full fine and full coarse pitch. I’d incorrectly assumed that we’d get better glide performance with the pitch in its full fine setting, but this was a useful demonstration that in actual fact pulling it back to full coarse will give a slightly better glide performance.

The last thing to do was to go through the ‘Emergency’ section of the checklist should the gear fail to extend. Roger has gone through a number of iterations of the checklist since his initial flight, and this section is now very comprehensive. The first thing to be aware of (as in all aircraft emergencies) is to make maintaining control of the aircraft the first priority. If the gear fails on the downwind leg, first of all get out of the circuit and get some height, even considering engaging the autopilot to remove some of the workload.

Once the aircraft is in a ‘safe’ configuration, working through the checklist is a relatively simple matter. The aircraft has an ’emergency’ gear extension mechanism that basically releases hydraulic pressure in the system, allowing the gear to drop under gravity and lock. Should the fail to lock then yawing the aircraft using the rudder (should the mains not lock) or pitching the aircraft up and down (for the nose gear) should cause everything to lock down.

If an indication problem is suspected, then a flyby of the tower (possibly parallel and then head on) should be considered to allow them to inspect the gear to see if it fails to lock down. Additionally, the indicator bulbs can be swapped to see if a single bulb has failed. Finally, if the panel lights are on, the brightness of the gear indicators is significantly reduced (something we demonstrated on the ground) and that’s always worth checking!

Should the worst come to the worst then a gear up landing should be attempted on a hard runway if possible, landing with flaps up in a level attitude. If possible, the engine should be stopped and secured on Final, and the prop motored to get it horizontal to reduce damage. Also, you could consider asking for a runway to be foamed should this be possible.

We recovered back to Kemble for a PFL. Roger had me do this using the ‘military’ method, positioning for ‘High Key’ (2500 feet over the landing area) and ‘Low Key’ (1500 feet in a position suitable to enable the remainder of the circuit to land). It had been a while since I’d done a PFL (Roger said it was obvious!) and I was also relatively unfamiliar with these terms, so Roger talked me through the procedure a bit more than perhaps he should have had to.

In general it all went well, but there was now a significant crosswind which I failed to correctly correct for. As a result I was blown through the centreline and (as ever!) ended up a little high. When we got down to a few hundred feet Roger called for a go around, and we set up for another circuit.

For some reason I flew this a lot closer in to the airfield than I normally would. This meant that again I was blown through the centreline as my downwind leg wasn’t far enough away from the runway to carry out a 180 degree turn with the wind blowing me towards the runway at 30 knots or so! Roger again had me Go Around, and we began to discuss the options should the crosswind prove too great for us to land at Kemble.

My first choice was Gloucester, as I know it has 3 runways so one was likely to be almost into wind. Roger suggested Colerne also, but we’d already ascertained that they weren’t flying today. Roger finally suggested Oaksey, whose main runway is 24 rather than 26 at Kemble. This change in direction would probably give us a small enough crosswind component to be able to land successfully.

In the end we decided that Roger would attempt a landing at Kemble (he’s probably done one or two more landings than I have!), and if he was unable to then we could divert elsewhere. I flew the majority of the circuit (this time allowing a lot more room on the downwind leg) and we also stayed a little high to try to avoid the worst of the turbulence over the threshold. On Final Roger took control and took us down to a decent landing despite the tricky conditions. I guess all that practice really does pay off!

Due to the increased crosswind we decided against any further flights today. We refuelled and covered the aircraft before heading back in for a debrief. Roger said he was generally happy with the way I’d managed all the systems, and thought that a single further flight with me doing things without him prompting should be enough to allow him to sign me off for solo flight in the aircraft. All we need to do now is line up all those dots again!

The Flight's Track

The Flight's Track

Vertical Profile

Vertical Profile

Total flight time today: 1:10
Total flight time to date: 165:05

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One Response to “Arrow Checkout Part 1”

  1. Variable Pitch Prop and Retractable Gear Sign Off « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] Andy’s Blog Poker, flight and anything else that comes to mind. « Arrow Checkout Part 1 […]

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