Flight Lesson #6 or "Look, Ma! No Hands!"

Two words: Mornings suck.

I usually don’t like to drag myself out of bed early for anything. If it involves standing upright like a good homo sapiens and it’s before 10am, I’ll probably grumble about it. No, I WILL grumble about it. Hell, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a 6 am until I joined the Army. I knew all about 6 “P”m, but what’s the “A”m crap?

So why the hell did I schedule a flight lesson today for 8 am?

I asked myself this question numerous times as I made my way from my warm, comfortable king-size bed to the car and to the airport. Warm under the covers? Yes. Warm outside? Not even close.

I arrive at the flight school, and meet Chris, my instructor for the day. Unlike my previous attempts at a flight lesson, the day is actually lovely. It’s a clear, calm, chilly morning just perfect for a flight lesson. After a quick check of the weather, I sit down with Chris and he starts briefing me on Flight Lesson 6. Today will be a day for running around the pattern, which means we won’t be leaving the confines of Manassas Airport and we’ll just be practicing take offs and landings. This is good, because it’s precisely the kind of practice I want and need. This kind of practice will help build confidence in my newly budding skills.

I hop in the airplane, get clearance from the tower and taxi to the end of the runway. I had experienced problems taxiing on a number of occasions, but this time it was smooth as silk. I scoot the Cessna down taxiway alpha like I had been doing it for years and park for the pre-take off checks. Once finished, I push the throttle forward and head out on the runway, wait patiently for the plane to speed up enough for the wings to start working, and then lift off smoothly to the south.

Twice I run the pattern, each time getting more comfortable. I actually feel VERY comfortable on the take off and the first three of the four legs which constitute the pattern. But the damned landing still escapes me. I am all over the place, left and right, nose up and nose down and just can’t seem to keep it steady on the center line. So Chris, as is his mission, keeps me from doing something dangerous and assists me through the first two approaches, once of which is a planned go around, and the second of which is an actual full stop landing.

Once on the ground, I ask him to show me what it’s supposed to look like so that I’ll have a better idea of what to do. He says ok, and off we go. Take off number three. I handle it up until the final approach. Once I make the right turn into the glide path for runway 16R, I spout off a hearty “You have the controls,” to which he correctly replies “I have the controls,” and he starts refining the approach.

Damned if he didn’t make it look easy! Smooth as silk. Piece of cake. Easy squeezy lemon peezy!

Ahhhh… so that’s what it’s supposed to look like!

The critique follows, and we decide to do two more landings, one go around and one full stop landing. So off we go for approach number four.

I negotiate the pattern about as well as I have and make the last turn onto final approach. I do my best to dutifully keep the nose down to keep 65 knots, the landing speed, in the airspeed indicator. I’m wobbly. Uncomfortably wobbly. But I make it over the centerline enough to have this count as a decent approach. Certainly it was not really any worse than the other two I did that morning.

Now remember, after the critique, we decided to do two more approaches, one go around and one landing. So here I am yanking back on the yoke trying to keep the airplane from landing fully expecting Chris to tell me to go around.

But he doesn’t.

As the airplane proceeds down the runway bleeding off airspeed, I am doing my best to keep things straight and level, still not my best skill. Eventually, the Cessna settles in with a significant bump, but easily within the acceptable range. I slow the aircraft and make the next safe turn off the runway and park to do the after landing checklist, and ask Chris why we didn’t do the go around.

Chris said “Eh, that was a good enough approach and I thought you should have the landing. By the way, that was all you, you know.”

I blink two or three times.

“All me?” I ask. “You mean…”

“All you. That was an unassisted landing.”

Who knew? I was so busy watching the approach that I had no idea he was sitting there, feet off the pedals and hands off the yoke.

All me.

Unassisted.

I did it. Howzabout that?

The surprise gave way to a feeling of accomplishment which gave way to a confidence I hadn’t felt before. (“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.’”)

I did it. I took off, ran the pattern and landed all by myself. (Sorta.)

What a wonderful feeling it is to know that you’ve done something you hadn’t done before. And I am delighted that Chris chose not to tell me in advance, because NOT knowing freed me from concentrating on the “Oh crap, I am doing this all by myself for the first time!” I got to land the plane without the added pressure of the additional goal of a “first.”

Very cool. Very, very cool.


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