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.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

KRYV 160235Z AUTO 22004KT 10SM CLR 24/23 A3006 RMK AO2
This was an event I was fairly nervous about. I haven't made any night landings to this point, and we were going to 2 airports that I was unfamiliar with. So in a way I was relieved when Adam told me that we would just fly up to Dodge County and do some landings there. I put up a mild protest, especially after all that planning, but I knew this would be a better option. But just to show I did the homework, I showed Adam my planning sheets and asked him some questions about checkpoint selection for night flights. Mostly, I selected checkpoints that would have some kind of lighting (towns, water towers), and I since I have two VOR radios, I derived fixes for them in case I couldn't see them. A fix is simply intersecting VOR radials. Set the OBS for one radial on one gauge and the other OBS for the other VOR radial on the second gauge. When the needles indicate that I am on each radial, then I'm at my fix.

It was still a bit warm as I preflighted the plane, but there were only puffs of breeze disturbing the still air. We started up and headed out to Runway 23 while there was still some light in the sky. As we climbed out of Watertown and turned to Juneau, it felt as though we were the only thing in the sky. The radios were silent and the winds were calm. Then came the first noticeable difference between day and night flight. No sooner were we at 1500' then we could already see the rotating beacon at Juneau, about 12 miles away. Clyman, our informal checkpoint, was lit up and much easier to find than in the day.

Within minutes we were in the pattern for Runway 26. The winds favored 20, but we opted for 26 to avoid flying over houses, and the light breeze would give us an easy crosswind component. Dodge County has approach lighting for Runway 26, but I discovered it was quite bright at full intensity. Adam did me a favor and keyed the mike to turn it down and I could see better. I came in slightly high and floated slightly, landing flat instead of fully flared. But it wasn't bad for a first night landing. I cleaned up and took off for the next go round. Another night observation is that familiar reference points on the ground for the pattern are not visible at night, so I used the heading indicator to judge each leg of the pattern. The second landing earned a favorable comment from Adam, and he would bring me back to earth the next time around.

This time, as I was focusing outside the plane, Adam reached over and turned off the landing light. So now on final all I could see was the approach lighting and the runway edge lighting, but I had no idea where the threshold was. Here's how it went. Flaps to full, keep some power in. Maintain the total picture vision-wise and gently fly the plane into the ground. We went long, and it was a little unnerving, but it was quite safe. On the final two landings, we left the approach lighting on full because I have to get accustomed to it sooner or later.

On the way back to Watertown, Adam took the plane and told me to close my eyes. After performing some maneuvers, and just as the stall horn sounded, he gave the plane back to me. Quickly I had to ascertain the attitude of the plane and recover from the stall. Similar stuff the second time, this time the plane was descending quickly and I had to recover from the dive. The third time I must have had my eyes closed for a minute, and by the time I got the plane back, I was totally disoriented. All Adam said was, "take us home". I suspected he played with the instruments, and my suspicions were confirmed. But that was after I looked at the compass first. I was over a town heading north and Watertown was south. The town was Juneau. I glimpsed ahead and I spotted fireworks off on the horizon. Boy this was fun!

I turned the plane south and fixed the gauges. Watertown was bright in the distance and getting brighter by the minute. We set up for Runway 23 and entered the pattern. The first landing was a bit of adventure. Whereas the runway markings at Dodge County were in good condition, the markings for Watertown are well faded. They barely showed under the landing light once we crossed the fence, and I was high when I pulled the power. I flared when I thought I should, but it was actually about 6 feet higher. Result? Hard landing. Should have added some power. I pulled off the runway at the turn off, and asked Adam our next move. He gave me the option. I wanted another shot. So it was back up to the top and once more around the patch. The second landing was much better, and we took 02E to the ramp. It was a fine 1.5 hours in the air, probably the most fun flying so far.

As we pushed the plane over her parking spot and tied her down, I paused for a moment to take in emptiness of the sky, the still air settling with moisture. A deep, satisfying breath. I could get to really enjoy night flying.

No lessons scheduled at the moment. Oshkosh kicks off next weekend, and the skies over Watertown are going to be crowded with traffic starting Thursday. That, and Adam is taking some time to go home and to Oshkosh. A break at this point isn't the worst thing in the world. I have to get my written test done, so I have time to prep. So I'll look at the weekend of the 28th for the next trip. Thanks again for stopping by.


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