Your connection with the sky

June 14th, 2012: Gaining confidence, another “Aha” moment

So I made good on my promise, whatever I was doing yesterday wasn't coming along for the ride today, that included recording the GPS tracking, not that I even was consciously aware of it once we were underway, but I wasn't taking any chances.

When I arrived at Skypark today there was a flurry of activity out back, so I rounded the corner to see what was going on. There on the bench was some healthy video equipment, my instructor and a few other folks from the airport all looking attentively at some video footage they had just captured of Travis, my instructor, doing intentional spins in the Citabria. It was cool and I wasn't the only one who thought so. The pilot and the videographer went up in their Cessna 172 and captured some amazing footage of Travis flipping the Citabria upside down and spinning out towards the ground not just once, but twice. The video, I'm sure, is going to be used to promote his new "Spin Class"...and we're not talking stationary bikes at the gym here, we're talking planes in the most perilous of all situations...spinning out of control, straight towards the ground. have such confidence, that's amazing. I've told him before, that's what I'm looking for, to know that whatever happens up there I've been trained to deal with it and not fear it. Maybe next week though, today I'm going to try to get the wheels on the ground with the plane in the upright position.

After watching the video a few times over we all agreed it was impressive, but now it was time for the real work to begin, getting me closer to my solo. Here's the thing about that soloing part, no matter how much you want to do it, no matter how well you take off and fly, if you can't land the plane, it's an issue. After the usual preflight...actually, I took a little extra time today knowing my instructor had just been flying around upside down and out of control a few minutes earlier, we jumped in and headed off to Petaluma Municipal for some more landing practice. Heading west out through the Petaluma Gap I ascended and leveled off at 1700 feet. The air was a little choppy and there were some definite updrafts today, but it smoothed out nicely at 1700 feet. I took the usual route over to Petaluma, skirting the west side of the hills and coming in on the 45 to a right downwind for runway 29. Again today it was, off, up and over in Petaluma in a matter of minutes, in the pattern and on my way down for my first landing. Was I thinking about yesterday, you bet, I was thinking about not doing whatever it was I was doing yesterday and I left it at that.

Coming in on downwind I concentrated on my speed, the conditions of the air, the runway, my altitude and by the time I turned base, I wasn't thinking much about the day before, I was thinking about the next 90 seconds. I was going to listen to my head today, not all of the things I had been told a hundred times over about glide angle and descent and approach speed and all of the little antidotes to remember about how things should feel, I was just going to look at my mark, aim for it, keep my speed and glide in, essentially, I was going to fly like there was no one else in the plane. What I was thinking about on the final approach was where my attention was focused, you see, as I realized reflecting on my landings yesterday, more than anything what I think I was doing wrong was looking at the ground, waiting for it to arrive at my wheels instead of looking out ahead of the plane and putting my wheels on the ground. It was if it all suddenly made perfect sense, I wasn't landing on the ground yesterday, I was landing at the ground, not anticipating where it was and touching down, rather, waiting for it to hit the plane and then reacting.

Straight down the middle, white lines between my legs, looking not at the ground in front of me, but at the runway far ahead of me, not where I was landing, but where I was flying, after all, landing is flying on the ground, isn't it? Just as I had read, just as I had been told countless times, fixing my gaze down the runway the earth simply stopped rising in my peripheral vision, it came up to meet me in the most pleasant manner, not a harsh thud, or an unexpected thump, just a pleasant, almost non existent swoosh. I could scarcely convince myself the wheels were on the ground, surely I was still hovering just above the surface. I wasn't bouncing, I wasn't tossing the stick from side to side or stepping hard on the rudder pedals to try to regain control, I was simply rolling along right down the middle of the runway. As I pulled off to start my taxi back down for takeoff a comforting voice from the back of the cockpit said, "that was a nice landing". I wanted to say, "Hell Ya, don't you know it!" but all I could muster was "thanks". I was still having a hard time believing it was me that put the plane on the ground.

So now, I wondered, am I going to go all freaky here and start worrying about the next one or am I going to just go up and do it again? I chose the latter and off I went, round and round for a dozen more just like it. Something had definitely clicked, I had figured out my own rhythm and it was working. At one point perhaps after 6 or so landings, my instructor who had been unusually quiet said "you may not be doing what I would be doing, but whatever you're doing is working great". I think that means I'm finally landing the plane, not waiting for it to land, and that it and I have found some balance with each other, after all, isn't that what you're doing, finding some balance between your ability and senses and control and this machine? It was definitely an "Aha" moment, will I get another one tomorrow, I certainly hope so.

We went for one last touch and go and we were off back to Skypark. I headed north of town and came across the airstrip perpendicular to get a sense of the wind, circled around and headed into the downwind pattern for runway 8. Coming in just over the trees and slipping the Citabria down to burn off a little speed I put her down for one last landing of the day once again a little shocked that I didn't feel any assistance on the controls, just a quiet "good job" and "take it on in". Does this feel good? You can't even imagine until it happens, you bet it does!

(no GPS track today)

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