Flight Lesson #9 – FINALLY!

The dogs decide to drop out of warp drive onto the king size bed en masse at 5:00 am.

I had set the alarm for 6:30 in anticipation of either trudging off to work again or dashing over to the airport at Manassas and try to fly. But 5:00 really was a little unreasonable. So with Charlie on my right and Gizmo on my left, I dozed off and on for the next hour or so until dozing placed itself firmly out of reach. Then I sat up and opened the laptop.

All weekend, I had been keeping an eye on the weather and had anticipated and hoped that today would cooperate. When I called up the current conditions at Manassas, it was clear, calm and colder than hell. So unless there was a temperature restriction of which I was unaware, today would be the perfect day to get up in the air.

I showered and dressed unusually warmly as the temperature was around 15F (-9C) and I was going to be spending at least a little time outdoors. So the thermal underwear went on. In spite of my recent post about the heater in a Cessna 172, today’s low temperature was going to be challenging even with the engine at full power. Long sleeved sweater and my backup leather jacket (my brown one that’s been around awhile is being relined!) completed the ensemble and off I went to the airport.

Today’s lesson was a rerun of a rerun of lesson 9, so I knew the drill. Even my instructor for the day, Chris, said so during our usual preflight chat, so we were off in no time.

I picked a good day, in spite of having to wait as long as I did to get to this date. Yes, the air was cold. All the better for aircraft performance. Yes, the air was calm. All the better for a smooth ride. The sky was so clear I could see all the way to Cancun. All the better to see clearly whatever it was I might be crashing into, but hopefully, that wouldn’t be an issue.

I taxi down, get clearance to take off and push the throttle forward. Once up to 55 knots, I eased back on the yoke and up into the blue sky I went. Effortless. Just as it should be.

Chris told me he wasn’t going to be saying much, rather, he was going to observe and help if I got stuck on something. As well, it would give me a closer sense of what it would be like without him in the right seat. This was wonderful because instead of trying to fly AND listen to an instructor, I was free to fly undistracted. I found that to be VERY helpful. This is one of Chris’s strengths as an instructor. From my perspective, a little silence goes a long way when you’re a student pilot.

During each of my three trips around the pattern, I spoke aloud all of the things I was doing, being sure to over inform Chris and make sure that no detail left unspoken, so I wouldn’t miss anything. I spent much of the time talking aloud to myself about not just what I was supposed to do but what I was observing. (It doesn’t hurt that I totally love listening to my own voice. Yeah, it’s an actor thing.)

For example, if I was banking too much, I said aloud “Too much bank!” and corrected. On final, if I were coming in above the glide path, I’d say “I’m high. Reduce power and pitch for 65 knots.” It helped me to cement in my head the things I needed to watch. (Sidebar: some think I have a lot of cement in my head already, so what’s a little more?) I would continue this practice when I was alone.

I did three laps around the traffic pattern at Manassas, performing the required go around without too much trouble. Once landed, Chris said “Taxi over past this jet here and stop over there just before the snow ends.”

No problem.

During the taxi, Chris is scribbling madly in my logbook entering the proper endorsements required before I can go up alone:

With a hearty smile and a wave, he hops out and heads toward the office.

Damn.

Awfully quiet in here.

Welp, I guess it’s all about me now. But then again, this is what I have been training for. So I adjust the radio, update the weather, ask for and receive taxi clearance and off I go.

So far, I am feeling pretty good. I had three very improved landings this morning and with the weather cooperating, if I were to have a good chance to succeed, this was definitely the day.

I get take off clearance, move off into the runway and take off smoothly. No problem.

Yet.

Now this is going to sound kind of strange, but in one way, I am kind of disappointed that nothing out of the ordinary happened, because then I’d have something more entertaining to write about. On the other and, I am completely delighted that nothing out of the ordinary occurred. The first landing was probably the best one I’ve done. Nice and smooth, nose of the aircraft up where it should have been. Nice! Sweet! Now for round two.

Second verse same as the first, except the landing was a little less smooth. But I got it down without losing any aircraft parts, so I went around for the third time.

While I was getting lined up for the third and last landing, I remarked to myself that I was starting to get tired, and this landing demonstrated that fact. It wasn’t hard, but I bounced a couple of times before it finally settled in.

Made it!

I taxied back, tied down the airplane and went inside where Chris and Brad both congratulated me. Chris had another student lined up after our lesson, so our conversation was necessarily brief and I was out the door and in the Prius before I knew it.

What’s worth noting is that I was genuinely comfortable; confident, but not cocky. Let’s face it, flying really IS serious business, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. But I had sufficient training. I had taken the time to repeat lessons where necessary, and the various mechanical and weather cancellations gave me opportunities to add to my confidence bank. So today, when the time came, I wasn’t terrified. I wasn’t nervous. I knew what to do and I did it. No sweat. And I could do it again right now.

In fact, I find myself wondering what all the fuss was about. I think that’s a huge testament to the quality of training I received from the folks at Dulles Aviation.

They told me that when it was time, I’d be ready.

They were right. Go figure.


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