Stage Check 1, By The Numbers

Number of take offs: 4

Number of landings: 4 (these should usually be equal)

Mistakes made: 1,345

Percent that I was so nervous my mouth was dry: 75

Times the instructor said “Just do it!”: 17. (What, is this guy Nike, or what?)

Price of lunch at the drive through afterwards: $4.65

All kidding aside, it was a good lesson, even if I wasn’t at my best.

I arrived around 7:30 and organized myself. Tom, the Chief Flight Instructor and my instructor for the day, was running behind. He’s a busy guy, since he runs the place, and was constantly being interrupted to take care of little management fires which seemed to be popping up.

We finally sat down together for the oral quiz about 8:15 or so and he took me through the usual suspects: What paperwork do you have to have on you when you fly? Which documents must the airplane have on board? That sort of thing. Airspace. Maps and charts. Navigation.

I thought I did pretty well on those. I missed a few, which is to be expected, particularly since I had been away from flying for extended periods of time. During the course of the conversation, he provided me with tips to make things easier, and clarified some questions I had. This was time well spent. As such things always do, It helped me to reinforce the things I did know, and point out the weaknesses.

On our way out to the plane, we had a chance to chat. Tom did, indeed, start flying in 1956, though he told me it took him nine years to get his private pilot’s license. He is retired from one of the major airlines, but wasn’t a pilot. Somewhere along the way, he said something about it being easier when you’ve had “10,000 hours doing this.”

By the numbers: I have 14.


To say that I was intimidated would be accurate. To say that I performed poorly because of it would also be accurate.

To say that once we spent a little time in the air together, I found myself really liking him would also be accurate. He’s a funny guy with a strong laugh and a penchant for telling silly jokes. You know, like “mother-in-law” jokes. It was really somewhat endearing.

Anyway, he put me through all the moves, and praised me when I did right, and let me know when I screwed up. And, as I have said, I did that a lot. I got so nervous, I had a death grip on the yoke, which makes flying about….

By the numbers: Times harder it is to fly when you’re hanging on the yoke for dear life: 1,000

Anyway, after about an hour or so of my own frustration and three of the four landings, we headed back to Manassas. I shot the approach quite well, I thought, though his opinion was to fly by eye and ignore the existing runway visual aids for landing. I thought that was rather peculiar advice, given that I would think that any pilot would want any resource at his disposal. But his point about not always having them was well taken, after my experience in Ohio where there were none.

If you’re going to end, it’s best to end on a positive note. As I have always said, I’d rather be lucky than good, and this time I was lucky. I settled the plane in just as nicely as if I had been doing it every day. Tom said “Nice landing” more than once, so I think I got at least that right.

Once inside, we went back and went over the lesson and did the paperwork. Routine stuff.

The biggest lesson I learned from all this is that I talked myself into making this lesson way more difficult and nerve-racking that it needed to be. I was well prepared, academically speaking. I had reviewed the basic maneuvers in Ohio, so I wasn’t lacking in understanding. I just let my own performance anxiety keep me from being at my best. I talked myself into being intimidated by both the words “stage check” and by Tom when neither were warranted.

By the numbers: Balls present: an adequate pair.

I shoulda used ’em.

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