Your connection with the sky

Weather (and other inconvenient setbacks)

Don’t get me wrong—I LOVE weather. But that’s not to say I’ve always loved weather. When I was little, I would take our two little poodles down into the basement with me as the first dark clouds rolled in, and there I would sit until the threat of danger receded. Mind you, there was hardly ever a threat of real danger, but after watching the movie Twister, every storm seemed like it would spawn a tornado at any moment. Today I thrive on the urgency of severe weather. My eyes are glued to the radar and I count down the minutes until I know we’ll get our first rain drops or hear thunder. After that, I can usually be found outside under an overhang or staring out the window enjoying Mother Nature’s wrath. Unfortunately, in the world of aviation, bad weather means one thing—you’re not going anywhere. Thanks to some extremely high winds, dense fog, and unusually early springtime showers, I didn’t go anywhere for almost two weeks.

Then my workload seemed to almost double overnight with a flurry of activities, as AOPA geared up for Sun ’n Fun. There were editorials to write, supplies to organize, and lots of other coordinating involved in getting us prepared for the trip. A couple times, much to my dismay, I had to make a last minute call to my instructor and admit that I was too tied down with tasks to carve out some time to fly. I hated doing this because part of me felt guilty for possibly not managing my time well, but another part of me knew that my work had to come first and being able to fly on the side was more of an extracurricular. Despite my hesitancy to cancel the lessons and much to my surprise, my instructor lauded me for making the right decision in regards to our safety and the productivity of the flight.

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Finally, by the last work week before I was to leave for Sun ’n Fun, I woke up with a sore throat that only got worse (along with other fun cold-like symptoms). I hadn’t gotten sick in almost a year and a half, so I tried to brush it off as allergies and was concerned that canceling any more flights would halt my swift progress. I almost considered still flying (what harm could a sore throat do to my flying ability?) when a colleague mentioned the "I’M SAFE" checklist:

Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Eating/Emotion

I hadn’t realized how many important factors went into assessing whether someone is fit to fly—or not! Some of them are obvious (medication, alcohol), but I hadn’t considered the impact the others could have on your decision-making ability, and yet, the decisions I had been making to cancel other flights were completely justified by this checklist. Sun ’n Fun came and went (and was one of the most memorable weeks of my life!). By the time we all returned, I learned that my flight instructor was sick, and her medication was not on the FAA’s approved list. Almost three weeks went by without my touching an airplane.

When we did finally go back up, it was rough. Most of the procedures that had come so naturally to me before were replaced with “ummmmm” and “I think I’m supposed to…” and I felt like a failure. After all, I had become fairly close to soloing right before Sun ’n Fun. Despite my frustrations, my instructor kept reminding me that we had some rust to brush off and I would be up to speed in no time.

I think I’m finally “there” again. The break had allowed me to recharge, and after some studying and chair flying, the procedures all came back. Even with almost 25 hours logged, I’m still working on finding out “my way” to land. That’s my last hurdle. I’ve perfected my takeoff roll, most of my basic maneuvers, and can fly a pretty tight pattern. And while I feel extremely confident in my ability to takeoff, soar off into the distance, swing back around, and fly a rectangle around the runway, eventually, I will have to come back down. Hopefully the next time you here from me I’ll have figured that part out.


2 Responses to “Weather (and other inconvenient setbacks)”

  1. Mark Roberts Says:
    April 27th, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I hear you Kristen, finding that right combination pitch, power,and timing that produces a landing to be proud of is indeed elusive. I too,feel confident is all areas of flying but after over 50 hours of training, landings are still my weak spot. When I do get a good one, it seems more from luck than skill. I have fulfilled all my requirements and now must put the pieces together to nail landings consistently, then on to the checkride.
    I wish you patience (not luck) in finding "your way".

  2. I share your hate/love relationship with the weather and can feel your pain. It is frustrating if you can't go up for days because of low ceilings or strong winds. If on top of that you get sick and have to stay in bed while it's sunny outside then you really have to be mentally strong to not get too frustrated. The I'M SAFE acronym is very good, didn't know that one yet. Also if, for whatever reason, you're stressed out it's sometimes better to stay on the ground despite the sunny day because otherwise you just won't be able to focus on your flying and might be just wasting the instructor's and your own time.
    As for the landings, I found that focusing your eyes on the right spots helped me a lot. On approach, focus on the numbers. Once you passed them and started your flare, keep looking at the very end of the runway and not right in front of you. Like a miracle that technique improved my landings a lot.

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