Tyson and I took off Sunday morning to head north for more short field practice. Our first stop was Plymouth. A modest grass strip tucked in a valley behind shiny white wind turbines whirling away in the wind left by hurricane Juaquin.
We had left Isaac in Jaffrey again with Grammie. Tyson stuffed himself in the back seat of the RV and filled the back of the canopy with his jacket to block the cold fall air. The trees are starting to turn. All the swamps are red and scattered maples flamed on the hillsides.
There were scattered low clouds in the southern part of the state — a reminder of the hurricane off the coast. I flew up through them into clear air which made navigation a little harder. I resorted to checking my GPS. About half way there, the clouds ended and I followed tree topped Mt Kearsarge, to rocky Mt Cardigan with the fire tower on top. Straight over Newfound Lake we flew, cresting the ridge with the white wind turbines, and finally we dropped down into the Plymouth valley.
I have never been to Plymouth before, so eyeballing it in the pattern I tensed up, not because it looked particularly harder than other runways I have landed at, but just because it was totally unknown. I was just going to land the airplane in any safe way I could manage, but Tyson convinced me to try for a slow approach and short field landing. We merged into the traffic pattern behind a Maule who was also practicing landings.
I came in too low that landing from a combination of following the Maule on a larger pattern than I normally fly, 10kt or so headwinds, and successfully keeping the airplane slow. So, I flew most of the way to the grass runway under power and made a decent landing.
Tyson got out with the radio. He and the guy flying the Maule chatted and watched my landings. I did three landings, but I forget the order of events. I think the first takeoff, Tyson said I needed to improve my soft field technique — nose high to keep weight off the wheels, and lift off as soon as possible, even if I then stay in ground effect to pick up speed.
One of the landings, I had the right descent profile, but was too slow before the threshold. I was low over the farm field, crossed the fence going 45kts or less and ran out of lift while I was still several feet above the runway. Another one I was way too high and did a significant slip down final. Some of the landings I had mostly headwind, but one landing the wind swung cross the runway. The grass is extra forgiving, but I felt like I kept my right wing down to properly correct for the crosswind. All my landings were around 600’ long.
Then we headed up the valley to Wentworth. We passed a rocky hillside to our north and both of us thought “hey that looks like there might be rock climbing there,” and then realized it was Rumney.
I had to resort to using the GPS to find Wentworth. I probably should have looked at the orientation of the valley better. My first landing was neither great nor terrible, though Tyson spent all of short final worrying if I was going to hit the trees he couldn’t see below the wing. I was landing to the south through a slot in the trees. There were mountains and bumps all around to watch out for.
We hopped out and said hi to John Mead, the owner. I might have met him once before. He was busy prepping for the fly in next week. Inside the hangar, we found Rene whom I know. He was working on the annual inspection on John’s cub, but stopped for a break to chat.
Then I was off for more landings. I had real troubles judging the right pattern size. Part of it might be that I was trying to fly slower. Part of it was that the open space in the trees for the runway narrows at the north end, and I think I was accidentally referencing the wider part, not the end of the runway. The first two landings, I used significant forward slip to descend to my desired flight path. The second time I descended too low and then had to add a bunch of power to stay above the aforementioned trees. Of course, I added too much power, so I still didn’t stop short. The last landing I finally managed a stabilized approach, but I flew over the threshold too fast. I think the first landing was the one where I felt like I had my air speed at the threshold just right and landed just on the edge between smooth and slow. But despite all those variations, every single landing, I stopped about a half cone short of the wind sock — about 900′.
For reference, I made Tyson try a landing. His technique looked much the same as mine, but he touched down several cones shorter and stopped 200′ shorter.
It was well past lunch and everyone had chores to do, so we said goodbye, with promises of RV rides next week and headed back south.
The clouds were all gone, so I flew low to admire the foliage. And, for the fun of it, I navigated home without GPS or chart, relying only on familiar landmarks.