Flight Lesson #8 or "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

3 December:

Scheduled to fly with Brad. Did great pre-flight briefing. Winds look crappy for the return. Nothing like getting off the ground and not being able to get back. Shit. Weather cancellation number nine-thousand, three hundred and twenty two.

5 December:

No aviating today either. It’s raining at 6:30 am when I call in to Dulles Aviation and talk to Wanda. Wanda is one of the women who works the front counter. (Which makes me wonder all of a sudden why there aren’t any men working the front counter.) She’s a lovely person, but perhaps a tad on the curmudgeonly side. She’s pretty clearly seen it all when it comes to students and aviation. I have no clue what her background is, but she’s appears to have a firm grasp on reality when it comes to pilots. And I think the world of her. She’s always very friendly when I see her, but I just get the feeling if I say something stupid or point out the blindingly obvious, I’ll get skewered. Anyway, I recognize her voice when she answers, so I give her a cheery (for 6:30 am) greeting and let her know I have a lesson scheduled at 8:00 am. Laughter ensues. Copious laughter. Guffaws even. Add one more weather cancellation to the list. Weather cancellation number nine-thousand, three hundred and twenty three.

8 December:

November was a bust. Eight lessons were scheduled from the last time I flew. Eight were cancelled. Eight. E-I-G-H-T. Count ‘em. 8. If I had done all of them, I’d be on lesson 16 now, which is the Boeing 737. But no, here I am still on lesson 8.

(Did I mention that I had eight lessons cancelled?)

Today, I got me some aviation love. More about that in a minute.

Remember this? This was what happened on 17 November:

“The cabin smelled as though someone had poured a gallon on fuel on the floor and closed the doors. I wouldn’t drive my car in such a condition, and Chris agreed. Better safe than sorry, and all that. So, canceled due to strong odor of fuel in the cabin.”

Damn good thing we didn’t go.

Turns out that the filler neck for one of the two fuel tanks cracked and a significant amount of fuel had spilled into the wing above the cabin, which manifested as the strong odor. So it was a good decision to turn the aircraft over to maintenance for inspection. The consequences of any other course of action would have been rather severe. Let’s just say that I’d prefer that my name never come up in a Federal Aviation Administration incident report, particularly a fatal one.

Ok, back to Tuesday.

The weather actually cooperates, though the afternoon could be pretty bleak. I’m scheduled to fly with Brad, but I encounter Chris as I am unloading my flight bag from the Prius. We exchange insincerities and he says he’s pinch hitting for Brad, because he’s out sick. No problem. I like flying with Chris. In fact, Chris and Brad are my top choices for instructors when I’m scheduling. This is our second real attempt at lesson 8, so I am hoping that the aircraft is in good shape. Once the preflight briefing’s done, out to the hangar where the Cessna 172 is indoors avoiding frost.

We go inside and do the preflight inspection. It’s amazing how quickly you can do a preflight when you’re cold. But I did all the items on the checklist, except fuel testing, and she was ready to fly. The hangar doors were opened and the glory of a beautiful, cold morning rushed in. Of course, we were rushing out. A running plane is far warmer than a plane that’s NOT running, so we were both anxious to get going.

Did you know how often you have to push a small airplane? Did you know how easy it is compared to a car? The easy answers are: “Often” and “Very.” One has to push the airplane out of the hangar. You can’t do the fuel testing or start the engines in the hangar. Think about what would happen were one of the planes to catch fire while still inside. Any other planes would be at serious risk as would the structure, so it gets pushed out clear of the building before you test the fuel, climb aboard and start the engine.

In short order, I do the fuel testing and we climb aboard. In no time, we’re taxiing out to the runway. Now the moment of truth. We do the run-up tests as I did the last time up with Brad. Last time, they failed. This time they did not. I get clearance to take off and off we go.

This is a review lesson, and since it’s been over a month since I flew last, I was a little worried about it. Back around flight lesson 3, I wound up taking about three weeks off for various reasons, most of them valid reasons. But coming back was a disaster: “Not flying for three weeks was probably the WORST possible thing I could have done to myself as far as flight training goes. I expected to experience a setback, but I was really quite surprised at how much set back I was. This will not happen again voluntarily.”

I must be learning, because flying Tuesday was just like riding a bicycle, except a lot further up in the air.

I handled the aircraft nicely, for the most part, and felt comfortable that if I looked away or took my hands off the controls, everything would be where I left it when I looked back. It was. I got so bold as to let go of the yoke and unfold my chart with two hands and the damn Cessna flew just fine without me. This reinforced what I learned from the last lesson – work WITH the plane don’t try to overpower it by sheer force of will. Works a whole lot better.

I did three landings, two at Culpepper airport, a rather desolate little airfield a fur piece from the actual town of Culpepper. Since it was early and cold, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the air, so I was able to relax and enjoy operations there. Then, back to Manassas, where it was a straight in approach. I had forgotten that Chris had mentioned doing a slip-to-land at some point during the day. A slip is a maneuver in which the airplane is pointing in one direction, but rapidly moving down and in the opposite direction. It sounds worse than it is, and it’s a very effective way to lose altitude fast in a controlled fashion. Chris had apparently forgotten too, and like the bonehead I am, I said “Hey Chris. Weren’t we supposed to do a slip today?”

The situation was acceptable, so he assisted in the slip and I landed with no problems. But I need to practice that maneuver. It’s a bit complicated. It’s more than a bit disconcerting to feel the Cessna literally slip to the side. It’s not something that you’d think would work, but it does and when it works, it’s pretty cool!

So now I am at 24 landings and about 10 hours. Friday will be another review lesson, and then Saturday is the big day. I’ll do three take offs and three landings (the number of take offs and landings are supposed to be equal, by the way) and then the instructor, presumably Brad, will hop out of the airplane and I’ll do three more of each on my own. No one else in the plane. Solo.

Yup. I’m soloing Saturday, if everything cooperates and I do my job. Of course, this is just one step on the road to becoming actually licensed. That’s still 30 flight hours away, plus or minus. But still, I’ll be up there all by my lonesome for the very first time.

I’ll be ready.

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