June 11th, 2012: Takeoffs and 3 Point Landings at Petaluma Municipal
I Just have to say, today felt really good. Compared to last week when I just botched attempt after attempt and went home feeling more than a little disappointed, today felt very good. There wasn't much time to think about anything. As soon as I got to the airport I checked out the plane and we were off, straight out on 26 out of Skypark and headed over the Petaluma Gap at 1700 feet on our way up to Petaluma Municipal. I headed north west up along the edge of the hills and made my left turn about 3 miles out for a 45 degree approach into the right downwind pattern for runway 29. Maybe I shouldn't be concentrating on it so much at this point, but I'm always thinking about that "Practical Test" when I fly. Am I staying within limits, altitude, attitude, speed, how's my coordination etc., what are they looking for, what are the limitations etc., and it's a lot to focus on, but today I felt very good about most of it. After last weeks rather dismal landing attempts, I wanted to really focus today on what I was doing wrong and get it corrected. Fortunately, the morning after those landing attempts I woke up to an email from AOPA with an article from an experienced pilot who had taken a number of years off and was getting back to it. Appropriately, she was discussing her frustration with her less than adequate landings. A couple of things about the article struck a chord with me, 1) sit higher in the seat 2) keep your focus farther down the runway and 3) hold off, hold off, hold off...
With that in mind I focused my attention on the first landing. Asking my instructor to handle the radio calls so I could just focus my attention on flying really helped. While I need to know and practice all of it, I figured none of it really matters if I can't get the plane on the ground. Flying into the pattern at 1100' I did everything well, checked the carb heat, abeamed my numbers, reduced power and speed to 70, kept looking back on my runway, made coordinated turns to base and final, and smoothly descended to the runway. Swoosh, smoothly down with the line right between my legs. The first one was so smooth in fact that I didn't think I was actually on the ground which took me completely by surprise. I couldn't help but think, surely something was wrong. I was almost so distracted by the success of it all that I nearly forgot to throttle back to idle and stop the plane.
The next 9 were similar experiences, maybe not quite as good as the first, but all good, in fact, with the exception of 2 that were a little bouncy, mostly because I still have a tendency to flare too early, 9 of the 11 landings today were good, so good by comparison to my previous attempts last week that I was sure that my instructor must have been helping, but he assured me his hands were completely off the controls during each and every one. "Really? Really? You mean I might actually be able to do this myself?", "You are doing it yourself" he said with a bit of a chuckle, obviously amused at my enlightenment. To which he added, "if you found yourself in a Citabria, with no one else at the controls, you'd be able to land it". Man that feels good. Can I repeat it again? We'll see soon enough.
My takeoffs, ascents, turns and level offs all felt good today and were very close to being in range of the check ride requirements. My flying in the pattern was the best that it had ever been, attributed in large part to the fact that I finally got the pedal off the metal. I decided today that I was going to loosen my grip on the stick and take the pressure off the foot pedals. I know in my head that I shouldn't be trying to push them through the floor, but that's been difficult for me up until now. Today I just decided to trust what I had been reading, and trust the plane to do what it wants to do, fly. It's amazing what happens when you do that. Once you get your trim set it turns out you can just about let go of the stick, and for sure you can take your feet off the pedals. What a beautiful thing and it makes everything so much easier. Prior to today, I kept wondering, if I'm holding too much pressure on either the stick or the rudders, surely my instructor would let me know, but them it occurred to me, that unless my instructor was taking over the controls for one reason or another, he actually doesn't really know how much pressure I'm holding. This was a huge revelation for me today, one that I can't express enough. Give the plane a chance to fly, and then control what it does with as little effort and input as possible, and not only will you be amazed at how much easier it is, you might, like me, be amazed at how much less you sweat.
3 of the 10 landings at Petaluma today were touch and gos, the other 7 full stop. Heading out on runway 29 we took the usual route back along the hills and through the Petaluma Gap and into the pattern for Skypark. For the first time I actually felt like I saw the runway clearly, not just the runway but the windsock at the end of 26 which immediately told me that we should be looping around and coming in on 8 instead. Before my instructor even had time to ask, I had mentioned that i thought we should extend our path out and come back around for a right pattern downwind onto 8. He agreed and we proceeded. Runway 8 is a little trickier than 26. While they are 1 in the same physically there is an illusion coming in over some taller trees and some buildings on the approach that makes it appear shorter. He walked me through some of the differences, and I chose my approach angle and speed. I set my sights a little farther down the runway, pulled into a bit of a slip to come in a little steeper and landed, a tad fast with a very slight bounce, but landed unassisted just the same. 11 for 11 today, I'm not going home disappointed.