Rich's Quest For Flight

My father was a pilot. He died doing what he loved to do. It has been a goal of my life to become a pilot. Now I have chance to do so. Follow me as I pursue my dream.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

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In rugby, they call them "the hard yards".

On an Army obstacle course, it's called "the dirty name."

I don't know if there's a name for it in aviation, but doing touch and goes in gusty conditions directly into the setting sun has to be something. This much I will say: tonight's lesson tested my resolve. There were a couple of times when I wanted to walk away, except I couldn't; I was flying an airplane. But by the time we landed for the last time and pulled up to the pumps, I felt like I actually did something good.

Nine knots may not seem like much, but the gusty conditions and boundary layer turbulence did not sit well with 02E, tossing and heaving back and forth during each climbout. She made noises and acted every bit the old training craft that she was. Tough conditions, to be sure. Now shine the setting sun straight in so that seeing the gauges is next to impossible not to mention trying to see the runway through the streaked windscreen. Have I missed any of the sensory inputs? If either of us had farted, it could've spelt disaster.

Okay, perhaps not.

Eight approaches we made to Runway 29, seven times we landed. On the third approach, I was way high. When I turned final I was nearly 300' higher than I needed to be, with not enough room to get it down soon enough and still slow to the proper speed for landing. So, for the first time, I announced I was going around. Flash back to Tuesday. On one approach, I leveled with the plane going too fast, and I floated halfway down the runway. I put it down, and cleaned up again for take off, but Adam mentioned (in a constructive critique) that he might have waived it off. That struck a chord with me. It's OK to swallow your pride if it isn't right. A little humility now might save a life later. And in a way, I'm trying to show Adam that I can make decisions in difficult situations. I want him to feel like he doesn't need to be there. I am trying to prove that I am ready for solo.

After the seventh landing, Adam directed me to set up for Runway 23. Landing Runway 29 involved a minor 10 degree crosswind. Now I will be dealing with a 70 degree crosswind from the right. It was as if, after a 5 mile run, I was being asked to run a set of 50 yard gassers. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and re-mapped the winds in my mind. At least this runway is the longer runway, so I had more time to mentally prepare during the downwind. The winds, though not as gusty now, were still pushing the plane around. Depending on the leg, I'm pointing 20 to 30 degrees off line just to track correctly. The first landing wasn't too bad; a slight confidence boost. I felt good climbing out. I reduce power as I pass the numbers and start my descent. But then it all starts going wrong. A series of updrafts keep the plane from descending. Now I'm high even though I reduce power to try to let her sink. I'm still high as I turn final, and now I'm preoccupied with getting her down. I ignore my speed, and I don't even remember if I put in the last notch of flaps. I cross the threshold at the right height, but 15 knots too fast. I level off, and she floats. And floats. Land, dammit! Then, Adam calls "go around". Shit. Power in, start to climb, carb heat in, flaps up. NO!!! Just as I catch myself, Adam fixes the flaps, then gives the closest thing to a lecture that I've gotten since I started flying. Always, ALWAYS, bring the flaps up incrementally. Taking them all out at once will cost you your lift and your plane will stop flying. Even though it was for just an instant, I had caused an unsafe situation. I was pissed. I felt lower than whale scum. I kicked myself in the ass during the whole climbout. I had to get myself together.

I brought her around, made a pretty good landing, and it was up one last time. Adam gave me a pep talk, complimenting me on the last landing. Landed on the center line, with the windward wheel touching first. Continued around the pattern, and set up for final one last time. But once again, I was a little fast and a little high. This time, I took out more power than usual to correct, and at least got the plane at the proper glide slope. But I was still fast. More power out. But this time, instead of porpoising as I had in the past, I gently leveled her off, letting the speed bleed off. Sure, I was floating a little, but this time the plane settled down nicely as I flared at just the right height and she touched down just as the stall horn sounded. A good landing.

So after tearing myself apart, I built myself back up. We had a philosophy in the Army that you trained in the most difficult conditions as possible. Tonight was difficult. It was downright hard. But I'm okay with it. I know I will be a better pilot for the trouble.


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