Today I learned a bit more about how FlightAware tracks planes. When we left my home airport, we left the pattern immediately and never received a squawk code. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, planes flying in controlled airspace are required to have a transponder. When you contact the tower, they tell you what code to enter and they start tracking your movements. If you are leaving the area on a visual flight rules (VFR) flight, you set the squawk to 1200 and are good to go.

We normally fly further out to the northwest, but the weather wasn’t really cooperating. We headed north instead and practiced steep turns, stalls, emergency descents, and preparing for an emergency landing. After a few practice rounds, we decided to go over to Conroe, and fly the pattern. When we were about 10 miles out, we called into the tower and they assigned us a squawk code. That’s when they started tracking us.

When we arrived, my instructor asked me to turn to base a lot sooner than I would normally turn. This gave us a chance to practice forward slips. This isn’t the same thing as crabbing into the wind. In that situation, the wind is blowing across the runway and the pilot is responding. In a slip, the pilot is using opposite controls to cause the plane to fly sideways. The purpose is to lose altitude. Think of it as drifting the airplane.

After a few rounds of the pattern, my instructor decided it was time for a couple of dead-stick landings. As soon as we passed the runway threshold, he reduced the power to idle and I had to land. I have experience with hang-gliders, so I nailed it the first try. Well, I could have landed a little further down the runway, but my instructor was pretty happy with my landing.

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That was when we decided it was time to head back. We planned everything just right and landed about 15 minutes before the front rolled through and it started raining. While it was nice to beat the weather, I really wish it had held off another hour. If it had, my instructor would have had me solo.

So close. Ah well, next time.