Twenty Things about Flight School

Ok, so I am sitting here in my cubicle, lamenting the fact that both weather and the holidays have put a crimp in my flight training. Pissing me off is more like it. So I decided today to go back to the academic side of things, and refresh my memory about all of the things I learned for the FAA written test and have probably forgotten.

But before I do that, I’m doing my own list of the ten things I like and ten things I hate about aviation training. I’m trying to immerse my alleged mind in aviation activities because I am getting far too used to NOT flying, and I want to progress. Besides, I gots me a delightful t-shirt for Christmas that defines “pilot” as the “highest form of life on Earth.”

Definitely a motivational gift! (And yes, that’s a scan of the actual shirt.)

As Casey Kasem would say, “Now, on with the countdown.”

Ten things I hate about aviation training:

10. Motion sickness

9. The lingering smell of 100LL aviation fuel on my hands.

8. Landings.

7. Interacting with air traffic control and trying to sound smooth. (Note to self: Stuttering does not come across as smooth.)

6. Weather and mechanical cancellations.

5. No flight suits for student pilots.

4. Flaps which won’t retract.

3. The 30-minute drive to and from the airport.

2. The McDonalds conveniently located on the route home from the airport. (Can’t resist rewarding myself for a good lesson.)

1. WINTER!

Ten things I like about aviation training:

10. The view from 5,000 ft.

9. Takeoffs.

8. Safe Landings.

7. Taking time off work to go fly.

6. Cool aviation weather sites.

5. The cabin heater in a Cessna 172 is awesome making winter flight tolerable.

4. Exhilarating when you get it right.

3. The McDonalds conveniently located on the route home from the airport.

2. When I get my license, I can fly all by myself from here to Kitty Hawk, NC and the Wright Brothers National Memorial. (The airfield is called “First Flight Airfield.” I get goose bumps just thinking about it.)

1. Chicks dig pilots.

Flight Lesson #9 – Second Attempt

18 December:

I seem to have lousy luck with aircraft these days. And tomorrow, it’s supposed to have snowed nearly 2 feet, so there’s no aviation for me tomorrow, even though it’s on the calendar.

Damn!

It was bizarre, too.

Before you solo, you’re required to conduct three take offs and landings and one go around with an instructor present. Then the instructor endorses your logbook, hops out of the plane and then you do three more landings on your own.

Today was perfect. Winds calm. Temperature around 24 degrees Farenheit. Nice dense air — perfect day to do this.

The first two takeoffs were great. Landings….? Well, I still don’t quite have the hang of it, so I was glad to get in a little more practice. But I got it down without too much trouble.

It was the third approach, and I was supposed to do a go-around, or an aborted takeoff. Once you throttle up and the aircraft starts to climb, you’re supposed to raise the flaps incrementally as your airspeed increases. Well, I hit the throttle and reached over and raised the flaps once, then twice, then a third time which is how it’s supposed to go. But I was still pushing like crazy on the yoke trying to keep the nose down where it belonged. All the while, Brad is trying to correct me on the go around procedure.

After a short while, I finally said to Brad, “Hey, did you adjust the trim, Cause I am pushing like crazy here.” He took the controls and felt how much I was pushing down to maintain the attitude of the aircraft, and looked to see if the trim was somehow reset. But there was no doubt that neither of us touched it for the previous three approaches.

Then Brad says “Look at your flaps.” I look over my left shoulder and the flaps are still fully extended. Whoops! Brad recycles the flaps, but they stay frozen — probably literally, cause it’s cold — in the extended position. This makes for a lot of extra drag on the airplane, and it flies slower and climbs faster.

Once we figured out that the flaps were not going to go back up, we called the tower and told them we’d be going to the west ramp instead of taxiing back to do it all again.

It was a little different to handle, but it wasn’t difficult once I knew what the problem was. By the time I was on final, the flaps are supposed to be extended anyway, so it became a normal landing.

Once on the ground, we parked the airplane near maintenance to see if another aircraft was available, and it was, but Brad’s wasn’t. Another instructor was a definite maybe, and there was a question about whether the replacement aircraft would have been ready in time for me to go up again. So I just said “You know what? Let’s just do this another time.”

Unfortunately, “another time” will probably be mid week, since the snow’s coming, and coming fast.

Everything’s a learning point. If you succeed, you learn how to do something. If you get it wrong, you learn not to get it wrong again. If there’s an equipment failure, you learn how to deal with it systematically instead of panicking. So it’s my opinion that even though I didn’t get the solo endorsement today, even though I met the requirements and was verbally cleared, I gained so much from both the practice and the experience of yet another in-flight anomaly. It’s like old adage, anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm.

But even rough seas have value if you learn from them.

Flight Lesson #9 – First Attempt

12 December:

I can’t tell for sure if I’m hungry, nervous or excited.

It’s about 8:30, and in a few hours, I’ll head out to the airport for my lesson and possibly first solo flight. First, I’ll do at least three take offs and landings with Brad, my instructor, in the right seat. Then if the winds and my own skills support it, Brad will hop out of the plane and I’ll do three more.

This all starts about 1 this afternoon, and I have oodles of chores to do before I leave. So I’ll at least be distracted while I am working, but at some point, I suppose I should face up to the likelihood that, by the time I get home, I will have actually flown a small airplane on my own.

So I guess this means that the next time I am on an airliner, and the flight attendant comes on the intercom and asks “Is there anyone onboard who can fly a plane?” I’ll be able to answer in the affirmative.

Damn straight.

12 December (afternoon):

Not quite.

I got close, though.

I wasn’t particularly confident that I had enough experience to get landings under control. Brad, my instructor, had 18 hours before he soloed. I had barely 11 this afternoon. But I did seven take offs and landings and next time, Brad feels as though I’ll be good to go. So it didn’t happen today, and frankly, I am relieved. I didn’t think I was ready, but of course, you have to trust your instructor, so I did. He’s supposed to make sure I wasn’t in a position to go up unassisted when I wasn’t ready. And he made the right choice.

Check that. WE made the right choice.

And for me, that’s just fine. I have the luxury of time. I am not doing this because I need it for work. I am not doing this under any time schedule at all. So I can take my time and be a little conservative with my goals until I am genuinely ready. There’s nothing worse than being pushed into something for which you aren’t ready, and in my case, I have no pressure to perform.

So next time. Probably mid week in the morning, if the weather’s holding.

More later. I’m pooped!

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.

Maybe Somebody’s Trying to Tell Me Something?

Can’t seem to catch a break. Between crappy weather and mechanical problems, I haven’t flown in two and a half weeks. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, ya’ know?

Here’s how it went. Or failed to went. Uh… go. Oh, whatever…

Wednesday, 25 November: 

Fly with Brad. Weather cancellation at 9:00 am for my 2:00 pm lesson. By 4:00 pm, it’s clear and sunny. Another classic Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment.

Monday and Tuesday, 23 and 24 November: 

Weather sucks. Didn’t have anything scheduled, but couldn’t sneak in because of the weather.

Saturday, 21 November: 

Fly with Brad. Make it as far as the run up ramp. Then the right magneto ran horribly rough. Tried to fix it twice. Took it back to the hangar. Canceled due to mechanical failure. Serious Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. On the upside, Brad graded my pre-solo written exam, so that part’s out of the way. I’m having more than my share of these lately where flight school is concerned. Jim solos successfully. Greg flies, but can’t solo because he doesn’t have sufficient hours in the air. I learn that I am the only student out of the ground school class to have taken the FAA written exam.

Thursday, 19 November: 

Fly with Brad. Weather cancellation.

Tuesday, 17 November: 

Fly with Chris. Conducted our pre-flight instruction and talked for quite awhile. He’s a patient instructor who doesn’t mind taking tangents while discussing pertinent aviation issues. Move out to the aircraft to do the pre-flight. 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. Afterward, Chris spent well over an hour just quizzing me on terminal area charts. That was well worth it! I had an instructor to myself and was able to go anywhere with the discussion. Very valuable.

Saturday, 14 November: 

Tour Potomac Consolidated Terminal Radar Approach Control. Spend time with Jim touring the air traffic control facility. Jim’s supposed to solo today, but the weather’s not cooperating. Run into Greg, another ground school classmate who is also supposed to be soloing today. Weather’s not behaving any differently for him.

I take a quick trip to the Manassas Airport and it’s eerily quiet and foggy. Reminded me of Stephen King’s story “The Mist.” Got scared thinking about that and drove home fast and hid under the covers. Everybody knows they can’t get you when you’re under the covers.

FAA Written Exam or "Dare to be Stupid!" – Weird Al Yankovic

9 November:

Scored an 87%. I did the two practice tests yesterday and scored 88 and 84, so an 87 is about right. I’m happy with it, even though I was hoping to break 90. I didn’t go through all the questions as thoroughly as my fellow student Jim did, so I am sure he’ll kick ass.

I would have done better, but I completely brain cramped on how to use that stupid navigational protractor thingy, and didn’t realize what I had done wrong until I was walking to the car. Then I had a real Home Simpson “Duh’oh!” moment. lol… That cost me about 4-6%. Bummer…

Of course, now I’ll never forget the right way.

The proctor likes to talk, so what actually took about an hour was stretched into 2 and a half. Nice guy, though.

The two practice tests each focused on different knowledge, and this computer test was yet a third. All in all, ’twas a good experience.

Next: Prepare for the solo!

15 November:

It’s Sunday morning and I am lounging about with the doggies et. al. sun beaming down brilliantly on the dampened fall leaves. I haven’t seen the sun here since last week, and it’s a welcome phenomenon. There’s been no flying all week, and I doubt I’ll be able to get in a lesson today at this late of a time.

Yesterday, (“One time at band camp…”) I toured a huge air traffic control facility yesterday morning and it was fascinating. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let us take photos in the place, so I have nothing to show you.

The facility is brand new, relatively speaking. I don’t think I’ve seen so much technology in one place in a very long time. It was fascinating, overwhelming, and totally cool!

I drove out the day before to make sure I knew how much time it took to get there. That’s an old Army habit — a leader’s recon. Know the route before you need to used it and all that. The facility lies on the grounds of the former Vint Hill Farms Station Army base and many of the old buildings are still there, if you drive well into the property.

So many of the Army installations have closed or transitioned from military control to other agencies either federal, state or, as this one is, commercial developers. So much of the Army flavor is gone, but it’s still there if one is willing to go looking.

I had always wanted to see Vint Hill Farms. When I was in my Army advanced course, one of my fellow students was somehow associated with Vint Hill and he wasn’t allowed to talk much about it. That’s because it used to be a super secret kind of place that regular guys like me didn’t get to see. It’s out in the middle of horse country, too, so the surrounding countryside is gorgeous. Anyway, I tell you this because I did a lot of exploring when I was out doing my recon on Wednesday. Nice area. Would have liked to have been stationed there back when the post was still booming.

Flight Lesson #7 or “That’s the Night That The Lights Went Out in Manassas”

It was windy. Man, oh man, was it windy. Probably too windy for a student pilot, but I had Chris, my flight instructor, sitting in the right seat making sure that the wings stayed on top and the wheels on the bottom. No sweat.

I looked over the weather about 30 minutes before takeoff on the fancy weather computer that the flight school has. At the time, it wasn’t too windy, but it was about to be in 30 minutes or so. And that’s now. But it’s not windy enough to warrant a “no go”, just something of which to be aware.

Preflight is now pretty easy for me. So is taxiing to the runway. I’m also growing more comfortable with radio calls now. I still get a little flustered if I run into something unexpected. And with the new headsets clamped on each ear, I can actually hear what’s going on. So when the tower cleared me for take off, I revved the engine, taxied out onto the runway and let ‘er rip.

The airspeed indicator is the instrument on the top left of the two rows of instruments called a “six pack.” That’s the one that’s probably most critical on take off and landing. As I roll down the runway, I am learning to keep a close eye on the airspeed indicator and keep the aircraft moving straight and true down the center line. No problem.

Until the Cessna’s wheels left the pavement.

Once reaching the appropriate speed, I pull back on the yoke to rotate for take off. At the very instant the wheels lost contact with the ground, the strong crosswind gusted and blew the airplane to the left abruptly and startled the hell out of me. The runway is 100 feet wide, and I went from the center line (roughly) to flying over the grass in literally the blink of an eye.

Good thing I didn’t blink, ’cause I’d have missed it.

“Whoa! That wasn’t supposed to happen!” I exclaim loudly and try to correct, but the wind doesn’t want any part of it. Finally, I get the airplane back on course, thanks in no small way to Chris’s coaching and encouragement. It’s a little bumpy, but acceptable and we proceed out to the practice area.

One of the good things about the instructors is that they are very flexible in tailoring any given lesson to the needs of the student, while staying faithful to the federally approved course syllabus. Before we left, I told Chris that I wanted to practice under windy conditions some of the maneuvers I had learned in a previous lesson when the winds were nonexistent. No problem there either. There was plenty of wind.

I needed to become more familiar with the landmarks of the practice area so I don’t get lost when I am out there one day all by my lonesome. So we did a little sightseeing as well.

When it was time to go home, I turned the aircraft northeast and headed back toward Manassas. As is the procedure, I called Potomac Center to get clearance to enter the DC Special Flight Rules Area. The controller came back with the anticipated information and then told us that Manassas Tower was out of contact.

Out of contact? How could this be? Weird.

We proceeded toward Manassas anticipating the communications anomaly would be resolved and we’d be on the ground in no time. When we were at the appropriate point, I keyed the radio and said “Manassas Tower, Cessna 35354, 7 miles southwest for the west ramp.”

(Was that a cricket?)

Nope, not a single cricket at pattern altitude. Manassas Tower was not talking to anyone. So we switched to the Manassas Ground frequency and repeated the call. The controller answered with two words: “Stand by.”

The next voice we heard on the radio was the controller announcing to anyone who was listening — and there were undoubtedly many — that everything was on hold and that departing planes would have to return to the ramp. He said that they had no radar, no computers, no nothing, except for the one working radio on which he was broadcasting. Then he called us and cleared us to land.

Chris tried calling the school on their assigned frequency, but they didn’t answer either. Strange. Something was going on, but we had no clue what it was.

We proceed in. I made the left hand turn and lined us up on the runway. This time, I had a better time keeping the plane on target. This is in part because Chris had covered three of the six pack which had forced me to look outside the airplane. (Best thing he could have done for me.) The wind was making the airspeed indicator vary quite a bit and I did my best to hold her steady. When I felt as though I was coming in a little low, I added power to adjust my glide slope without having to be prompted. In fact, the whole lesson I was adjusting this and that nudging the plane in the direction I wanted it to go instead of pushing it. I was really feeling the plane this lesson instead of trying to force my will upon it. This was far easier and far less fatiguing.

I get to the runway numbers and pull the engine to idle. At this point, when you are about 5 feet or so off the runway, the pilot is to pull back on the yoke in the attempt to keep the plane flying until the airspeed drops and the plane settles in, which it did with little fanfare.

There you go. A second unassisted landing, and this time in some rather odd conditions:

1. Virtually no help from Manassas Tower.
2. Some serious wind.
3. A smattering of nausea from the motion of the maneuvers.

Once on the ground, we pulled up to the school, parked and walked in to a darkened office space. No wonder no one was there to talk to us when we called — the power was out all across the airport.

I turned in the paperwork and did the post flight critique. It was a terrific lesson in that for the first time, I wasn’t fighting with the airplane to make it fly. I was working WITH the airplane. Huge difference.

I hopped in the Prius and headed out around the end of the runways. As I was going out, it occurred to me that this had been a VERY good day. Not only did I land the plane myself, not only did I work with the plane instead of against it, not only did I make an acceptable approach by eye…

Wait a minute. There are supposed to be lights along the runway which tell you if you’re on the glide slope or not. I don’t remember using them. Odd, because you’re supposed to and they are really, REALLY hard to miss, particularly if you’re a nervous student pilot. But the power was out.

And so were the glide slope indicators.

Wow! I landed COMPLETELY by eyeball this time. Couldn’t rely on the existing navigational aids ‘cause there weren’t any. Double bonus!

So now I have my first aviation tall tale to tell. Next time I tell it, I think I’ll put myself in a bigger airplane. Something like a Gulfstream jet. Or a helicopter. And I’ll say that the winds were just shy of hurricane strength winds. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

But any way you slice it, this was a pivotal lesson. To the credit of my instructors, much of my training came together today.

I like to think of it as One Giant Leap for Dankind.

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.