Our November and early December were dry, and people were starting to complain. The last two days changed that situation: today, people are complaining about the snow.
And for one of my students the snow was well timed. He had a couple of solo flights in his logbook, so it was time to move on to the "high performance" takeoffs and landings (that's FAA-speak for short- and soft-field). In smaller planes (172s, Archers) the usual landing speed is so low that the concept of a special "short field" procedure is a little superfluous, but it is the standard approach for larger airplanes. I also like the short-field approach at night at an unfamiliar airport because the steeper glide path means more height over unknown obstacles.
Student: Did you ever do a short-field landing in the King Air?
Me: Yes. Every single one.
(One of the local Designated Examiners is fond of pointing out that the short-field technique that we teach (constant airspeed with glide path adjustments by power) won't work in a mid-sized jet like the Hawker 800 he used to fly, although it worked fine in the King Air. Although one of my mottoes is Fly the airplane you are actually in, his perspective is useful. Learning the maneuver gives the student a much deeper understanding of aerodynamics and much finer control over the airplane.)
The soft-field approach is perfect for today's situation. Soft field operations mean being airborne at the minimum possible airspeed. Lower touchdown speed is just the thing for a snow-covered (or other less-than-pristine) runway.
So we set out to do soft-field takeoffs and landings. The ATIS took me by surprise with its mention of MU values; I had missed the NOTAM saying RWY 3 BOWMONK MU 35/36/36 WEF 812151800 [sic]. This is explained in the Aeronautical Information Manual, paragraph 4-3-9 Runway Friction Reports and Advisories. Someone measures the runway's coefficient of friction in three zones, and the numbers (like 37) represent the percentage of maximum friction observed. When the number is below 40, things get sporty. And we were between 35 and 36!
We did the runup well short of the hold short line, just in case we slid on the slick taxiway. Then it was time for the real deal: call for takeoff clearance, yoke all the way back, keep moving in a gentle turn onto the centerline (or, since it was invisible, the approximate centerline). Add full power, stay straight, keep the nose at the takeoff position. Up into ground effect, lower the nose to accelerate, and then a normal climb once the airspeed was safe.
And then it was time for a genuine soft-field landing. Some people say that this is the most delicate maneuver in the private pilot curriculum, requiring delicate control of the airplane. That's what makes it fun, and that's what makes it a good learning tool. But those are secondary considerations; today's primary consideration was to put the airplane safely on the ground. Which we did.
Admitting my ignorance, I had to look up whether the short- and soft-field takeoffs and landings were included in the Sport Pilot Practical Test Standards. The Sport Pilot license only requires 20 hours of training, while a Private Pilot requires 40 hours, so something must have been cut out. A lot of the difference is in cross-country requirements: Private Pilots need 5 hours of solo cross-country, while a Sport Pilot only needs a 75 mile solo flight. Sport Pilots get neither night training nor night privileges. Sport Pilots need additional training to use Class B, C, or D airspace, while Private Pilots need 3 solo landings with a control tower. Sport Pilots get no instrument-flying experience,etc.
But Sport Pilots must demonstrate the short- and soft-field techniques to the same standard as Private Pilots. Stick-and-rudder skill still wins the day.
And, it's more fun.