My CFI, Travis, ran me through fueling the Citabria today so I'm now all checked out on pumping gas. Once we were all fueled up it was time for take offs and landings…lots of them. I have to say, I can't get enough of these. Probably a little hard on the tires and landing gear, but I could do them for hours. Following a white board session on crosswind takeoffs and landings, we took off on 26 with a straight out departure heading due west to the town of Petaluma where we would spend the next hour flying the pattern and practicing…well, more take offs and landings. Here's an interesting phenomenon, even though on the ground thinking about flying into, around and out of a new airport I experienced a little apprehension, once I was in the plane it just all went away. It's all about focus and that's all you can do once you're in the plane, focus.
Flying to Petaluma is nothing short of beautiful. Crossing through the Petaluma Gap, literally a large gap in the mountains that separate Sonoma from Petaluma, you are flying over some spectacular wine country agricultural property. Once through the gap, I got a visual on the airstrip and then paralleled the runway along the west edge of the mountains (in Colorado they would call them hills, but here they're mountains) until we were perhaps 3 miles north east of the airport. At this point I banked into a 180, well, more like a 130 degree turn and headed back toward the Petaluma airport where, according to my instructor, it's best to enter the pattern at a southwesterly 45 degree angle at 1100 feet.
The temperature was in the mid 80's and the air was calm and beautiful again today so I was flying in what seemed like perfect conditions. Coming into the right downwind approach at 45 degrees, It appeared I did everything right, speed was good, attitude was good and I was feeling confident and leveled off at a perfect 1000 feet, perfect except that I had forgotten that in Petaluma the pattern is flown at 1100 feet as the elevation of the airstrip is 87 feet MSL. Damn, already I've fallen into habits. My instructor quickly corrected me and I ascended to 1100 feet as quickly as I could, just making it about the time I had to check the carb heat, pull the throttle back and start my descent. Ok, so that threw me off a little but I quickly recovered, abeamed my numbers and continued on. It was my first landing at Petaluma where the runway is much wider and significantly longer than Sonoma. There was virtually no wind as I turned right onto the base leg, descended to 600 feet turning right again onto final. I have to say, while I turned onto final a bit early I was feeling good, keeping the Citabria at a steady 70 mph, I made some adjustments, marked my landing spot on the runway and was right on track. Coming in everything felt perfect, I was in line, right speed, very close to my mark and then whoosh, I pulled back on the stick too early and started my flare 30 feet too high causing me of course to drop to the runway with a healthy thud, on 3 wheels mind you, with a decent attitude, but a healthy thud, a subsequent bounce, and some additional float none the less, eventually coming back down nice and straight, and rolling out cleanly down the runway albeit loaded with a little excess speed.
Petaluma is a busy small airport, well, busy compared to Sonoma anyway. This was my first experience where there were a fare number of planes in continuous rotation in the pattern. I suppose this should have worried me but so far I haven't found a thing I don't love about flying. I taxied the Citabria back around, waited my turn and was off again. I felt good about all of my takeoffs today and received little instruction or correction from my instructor which made me feel even better. Flying straight out on runway 29 but staying in the pattern, I turned right at 800 feet and continued to climb on the right crosswind leg to 1100 feet. At just about the time you hit 1100 feet you're making the next right turn back onto the downwind leg. This was great experience for me as the airport is much more clearly visible than Sonoma Sky Park. You have some very obvious roads paralleling the pattern on 3 sides and not all the ground clutter and structures you have in Sonoma, making it much easier to reference your position relative to the ground at all times.
I think I did 5 take offs and landings at Petaluma today, and 1 in and out of Sonoma Skypark. I was having so much fun I actually lost count and will need to consult the log books. While my first landing wasn't bad, my second felt nearly perfect. While, according to Travis, I came in a little slow and low and had to manipulate the throttle a bit too often to hit my mark, I felt really good about my coordination, plane attitude, speed, and the landing which was soft and clean, no bounce, and a nice straight track down the runway. We repeated this process another 3 or 4 times, each time getting a little better at one part while yet another part suffered a bit, but all in all not too bad. It sure made me feel a lot better to just run through them one after the other. It made me feel especially good that my instructor didn't have to take the controls once to get us on the ground, bounce or no bounce, I considered each a success.
It's obvious I still have a lot of work ahead of me. My main points of concern right now are 3, the timing of my turn onto final, all but the last were too early, keeping a consistent speed on the final approach without continuously adjusting throttle, and learning to start my flare a little closer to the ground, all of which I feel perfectly capable of mastering.
To end the lesson we left runway 29 on a right crosswind departure, headed south back along the "mountain' range, and back through the Petaluma Gap, although this time, Travis had me change my heading to north east and head several miles north of the Sonoma airport before making a right turn back south. This was an exercise in 2 things, judging my distance from the airport and flying over at a perpendicular 90 degrees in order to judge the wind and pick a runway. This was extremely helpful as there was no one on the ground from whom we were getting a wind report. Heading due south towards the runway it was obvious that there was a slight right crosswind. I could see that the Citabria was drifting slightly to the left as the nose was pointed just to the right, enough for me to judge the speed and angle of the wind. This little trick told me immediately that I should fly a left pattern on runway 26.
Turning in to the downwind approach was quick as we were halfway through it already, but everything afterwards went fairly smooth, right up to the point where we caught an unexpected tailwind about 30 feet off the ground that slipped me a bit sideways, but by this point I at least had some idea of how to handle it, got the plane pointed the right direction and though not particularly graceful, managed to land close to my mark and taxi in.
Progress, I love it.