May 24th, 2012: Time for some Humble Pie
Today was super gusty, I'm guessing a good 14 - 18 knot wind and super choppy. Practiced a few wheel down high speed taxis to prepare for landing practice. On the first one I failed to get the stick to the left soon enough and that caused the left wing to come up and off the ground. Fortunately I kept the plane straight in the process but I totally botched getting the wing down fast enough. My first instinct was to kick in some rudder which was completely wrong and only succeeded in making the whole thing messier. The 2nd time around everything felt pretty good…a little wobbly down the runway as I thought about what I did wrong the first time around, but all in all it wasn't bad. I managed to keep the wings level at least and get the plane down the runway. One of the things that I still haven't gotten a good feel for is when you do what on which side of the wind. On takeoff, and against the wind, repeat after me, stick into the wind, stick into the wind, stick into the wind. When taxiing with a tailwind, stick with the wind, stick with the wind, stick with the wind. Oh boy. That's the thing, the rules of flying change depending on which way you're headed and which way the wind is blowing, it's not that it's that difficult, but you have a stick that moves in any direction, left, right, up, down, across, back, at an angle, and it's easy at this point to get things confused. I'd swear there are times when my brain is screaming left, and my hands just continue to pull right and vice-verse…then of course there's your feet.
There's just so much happening at once it's as if you suffer from some temporary dyslexia, the other day when I saw another plane at our altitude off of my left wing, I said over the radio, "plane at 2 o'clock". I'll let you think about that one for a little bit. Did I suddenly just forget which way the hands on a clock turn? My CFI didn't say anything but I know what he was thinking and it wasn't what a genius I was. I did make the correct evasive maneuver despite myself, but there was no sense in correcting my announcement at that point. That's the thing up there…you can't make mistakes.
I practiced 3 take offs and 3 go-rounds in the pattern. The go-rounds in the pattern went ok, again, not great, but given the conditions, it just wasn't going to be easy. The approach to landing number 1 was a disaster. Coming off of base onto final I was a complete mess, just getting tossed and bouncing all over the place. As much as I had read and re-read what to do, it all went to hell when it came right down to it. I was thinking about altitude and distance, and speed, and keeping the plane straight at the numbers and attitude, and thinking through everything I was supposed to do, and not supposed to do in my mind, nose up to slow down, slip to slow down, stay straight, lines down the middle, mark your target, is it going up or down relative to the horizon, how far off the ground am I, when do I start my flare, how much stick do I give it…like I said, a real mess.
The second approach wasn't as bad, but it was bad just the same. I felt better that my takeoff was halfway decent, but after my last landing attempt, I have to admit, I was lacking some confidence, nervous, and sweating profusely, it felt like it was 120 degrees in that plane. I am still forgetting the simple sequence in the pattern, enter downwind at 1000 feet altitude, keep your eyes on the runway, stay parallel, don't drift in, check carburetor heat, abeam the numbers, throttle back to 70mph staying at 1000 feet, get the plane to steady flight, descend to 800 feet, start your base turn when you're 45 degrees to the runway, correct for the cross wind, continue to descend to 600 feet, keep your eye on the runway, make your turn onto final, keep coordinated flight, position the plane so the center line is right down the middle of the nose, watch your landing target, don't let it go up or down…left or right, crab in or slip if you have to, left sick, right rudder, keep the left wing down, slow your speed to increase your angle of descent, nose up, not to much…oh man, where are those numbers, where's my target, am I too fast, is the nose too high…position the attitude of the plane for a 3 point landing, now just before you touch the ground, pull the stick back for the flare, not too much but more than that, not too fast you'll hit tail wheel first and bounce the tail, nose forward, wheels on the ground, left stick for crosswind, rudder to steer, drop the tail…you get the idea, there's actually more to it than that, that's just the easy stuff to remember.
Just to add a little extra tension to the landing, there was a fella on a big tractor mower in the grass between the taxiway and the runway, and we're talking a few feet from the edge of a runway only 25 feet wide and exactly at my target landing point. At that moment, I really didn't know who was crazier, me or him. There was a very good chance I was going to land on top of him and the idea of him and that tractor flying through the propeller was more than I could fathom, but these are the realities of flying, things like this happen and you have to be ready for it, but it was enough to make me do almost everything wrong.
I practiced 3 go-rounds and landings the third of which was actually the first good take off of the day and while it wasn't terribly pretty, it wasn't that terrible. I did manage to get the plane off the ground and flying which is a good thing. I have to say I was a little tense from my 2 semi botched high speed taxis and landing attempts though, but getting the plane in the air always makes me feel better.
Rather than come right around in the pattern as we had the first 2 times, my CFI had me fly out west over the Petaluma valley, climb to 2000 feet and practice a couple of high patterns ending in go-rounds. This was a really good idea as I think it was abundantly obvious that I needed a chance to regroup and regain my flight coordination. Exiting from the second go around final leg, I headed north up through the Petaluma Valley and east across the Petaluma gap back towards Skypark. I made a nice even descent into the downwind leg, checked the carb heat, cut the throttle and speed back to 70, turned onto the base leg, onto final and brought the plane in for not a perfect, but a descent landing. I hit a little harder than I wanted, and took a little tail bounce, but I kept control of the plane and taxied it back to the ramp and parked it.
While I was never afraid, doing everything wrong is physically & mentally stressful in a lot of ways and it takes far more energy than doing things right. You're holding on for dear life to the stick, trying to push the pedals through the floor, and trying to separate everything going through your mind into divisions of good and bad, what to do next, what not to do next, and then of course, at least with me, there's just the general underlying disappointment in my performance. Learning to fly is a humbling experience, no matter how good and confident you are at things on the ground.
It will be better tomorrow.