display | more...

Hop #2 today.

The first hop was re-familiarization and fun memory. This hop was the restart of working for it. We stayed in the traffic pattern today - 10-15kt crosswinds on the runway, gusting. A bit bumpy at pattern altitude. Ended up making 3 landings and 2 go arounds - one go-around called by FI for practice, one by me because I had brought us in just too high.

This is a well-remembered part of flight training. After you are amazed at the fact that you landed an airplane (or Kept The Shiny Side Up, as pilots say) you go out, bit in teeth, ready to take on the world. Then you come up against that same runway, with a bit more wind, and you realize all over again that the ground is big and hard, and your airplane is so very small.

I call it Incipient Ground Panic. Everything is fine as you come around the pattern, although usually in this case you're (okay, I am) not experienced enough to realize when I'm not really in a good position. I turn base, and things are still OK but perhaps a bit on the margin- too fast, in my case today, usually. This is for a few reasons. One, turning directly from climbout into the traffic pattern with a consistent wind blowing and gusting makes for some easy-to-make misjudgments about pattern turns - it's easy, with a 10-15 kt wind, to leave your turn to base just a *little* too long, and end up way the hell out over the river, fighting to get the airplane lined up on the runway and realizing that you're low and that you didn't announce to traffic and that the crosswind is forcing you into a crab all at the same time. This is not an excuse - this is just what piloting is all about. It's totally doable - and I've done it, in the past - but since I haven't had to handle that kind of input and management workload for a long time, it's stressful being pitched back into it. I'm still not instinctive with my airplane, which means every time the wind or a prior mistake throws me out of position, it takes (precious) attention and effort to get the airplane back where I want it to be. Since I'm working from long memory and not recent experience, I'm correcting these things in serial, and by the time I'm back where I want to be in terms of altitude or speed, something else has usually gotten out of whack.

I got better as the day went on. I don't think I pulled off a completely successful landing all day - I would tend to start overcorrecting as the ground grew close, too-large control movements fueled by that sense of panic at the nearness of the Hard Bit. I don't know what the runway should look like on final without thinking about it, so I'm letting myself get into not-great positions before I realize it and start to correct.

But as I said, I got better, in what my instructor admitted after we landed was a wind state which, while it shouldn't be a problem for a commercial pilot, was a bit gusty and strong for a student pilot, of which I certainly am a wet-behind-the-ears example. That cheered me up a bit. Anyway, each landing (including the go-around I called) I was really 'in command' longer and closer to the ground before needing his advice and in one case his help on the controls to bring it in. Closer and lower, closer and lower. Although the wind was not technically much worse than my last flight, on that one I clearly remember the airplane staying where I put it and not bouncing or swiveling on final nearly as much.

The real problem - I have to get over my fear of the ground. It's my friend, and the airplane wants to go back there; I have to remember to keep the nose down as I approach to keep my speed up so I don't sink faster (counterintuitive until you've done it enough - if you think you're starting to sink too fast, push the nose down rather than add power!) My final touchdown wildness I figured out afterwards, in debriefing - I am not remembering (in my hands and feet) that on final, the rudder controls direction and the ailerons correct for drift. I was instinctively trying to 'steer' the corrections with the ailerons, causing the airplane to both bank (much more incorrect and nerve-wracking when on short final) and also causing it to get blown sideways worse, because i'd end up correcting the upwind wing high and getting blown sideways. Then I wouldn't have enough airspeed and time to get the airplane back into proper attitude and re-centered over the runway, and I'd start panicking slightly, requiring him to talk me through it and in that one case help fly it down (although I did tell him, that time, I needed him on yoke - he didn't have to step in).


Left the airplane with not airsickness, but that sort of tight, sweaty feeling that tells you your inner ear, while still under your command, is having second thoughts. Had to go find a Subway and have a nice bland turkey sandwich and a Coke to keep the gut stabilized - spending the whole hour in the traffic pattern coping with wind hadn't done me in, but I definitely felt it.

On the plus side? The plus side. I did land the airplane two and a half times, in what my FI admitted was not-great conditions. I did handle traffic pattern ops mostly correctly (only forgetting to announce a couple of times, when I had my hands full). I did improve, getting closer to full confident landings. I did figure out why I was getting into trouble close to the ground - crosswind plus incorrect control inputs for corrections. I have a plan of correction I can test next hop, hopefully Friday. I didn't get airsick. :-)

And leaving the airport, I was driving down the local two-lane when people started honking at me impatiently - and I realized I was unconsciously keeping my car to the proper taxiing speed, a fast walk. :-)

So. I have scheduled an FAA medical exam (required to solo) and have started working back through my Cessna Private Pilot's Manual, using the current ASA Private Pilot Test Prep on my iPad. I think back to when I started flying, and imagine what my reaction would have been had you shown me an iPad then, and I just laugh. Onward.