Relative to when it happened, this is a very late post.
Originally, I had this objective to post after each significant lesson / event. While sharing is always nice, the main purpose was to de-brief myself, write down what I remembered and hopefully consolidate some learning.
It’s always good to have a plan. Life and vacation, both very happy diversions, got in the way.
It was a busy week filled with end of school year (kids) activities, including graduation, a house full of relatives, a standard medical checkup, and a ton of things at the job to get tied up before I disappeared for a week.
Stressful as it was, it all got done and by Saturday, the house was back to “normal” and I was ready for my lesson. Weather…LOW CEILINGS.
Well, no major issue as the plan from last lesson was:
If calm with low ceilings, we do more pattern / landing work.
If windy we can do some more airwork.
So, I figured we would be doing more landings which was perfectly fine with me.
Weather briefing. Marginal VFR…oh oh.
Regardless, I was going to the airport.
When I arrived, my instructor was just taxing back in with one of my fellow students. That’s always a good sign. She said the ceilings were low but not as bad as the weather report. I was told to go do pre-flight and then come back to the hangar for briefing.
When I got back I spent a few minutes talking to the other student. A good chance to “compare notes”. A little bit of the competitive side comes out. He started a few weeks before me but it looks like we are at the same place….until the instructor says to me what we are doing.
We’re going to another airport! And by going I mean flying there.
I was thrilled. My fellow student had a somewhat muted reaction….he isn’t at that point yet. Felt a little bad. He asked if he could sit in on the briefing. It’s on my dime but hey, nice guy, and I’m sure he would do the same for me.
I already had my information for the airport so the briefing went pretty smoothly. For all the reading I did on the radio calls into a controlled field I knew it was going to get dicey when we actually did it. Thankfully, this time around she was going to manage the radios. Me…I just fly the plane.
We take off to the west, reach 700 feet AGL and make our normal 45 degree left turn to begin our exit of the traffic pattern. For the first time that left turn wasn’t followed by a right turn back out to the practice area. We cleared pattern altitude and turned back to the east towards Capital City Airport. Looking back, I guess it is not such a big deal but…well, yes it still is. I’m FINALLY going somewhere else and that’s progress. Little did I know there was more in store.
So once clear of Carlisle, we switched to Harrisburg approach and monitored for a minute or two. Once established at our altitude, we made the call in and established contact. I actually did want to make the calls but probably next time. It did hit me once again that we were actually flying somewhere. All previous flights were one maneuver after another. Here, we were just cruising somewhere else. That itself was cool.
After getting our squawk code we pleasantly made our way to the field. About 7 miles out we got handed off to Cap City tower. No surprises here except that my instructor changed her initial request from inbound to land to “The Option”. I knew what that meant but wasn’t sure why she requested it.
Slow flying day so we were cleared for the option on RWY30 from pretty far out. It was the runway we briefed on in pre-flight so no surprises there. She had me descend to the pattern altitude and enter the left downwind leg. No CTAF announcements needed.
At that point I figured she would take the controls. The lesson was to become familiar with operations at a towered airport. Well, either I didn’t pay full attention or she had a surprise for me.
“You’re landing the airplane.”
Well, that certainly kicked the brain into high gear. I guess you have to be prepared for anything but this wasn’t something I had thought about. Never going to do that again. From my last lesson I had commented I still needed to get the visual references for each of the turns right….that was at my home airport. Now I am flying into a totally different place. Sure the runway is similar but everything else, including the rather large hill on the right was different. Ok. I can handle this.
Similar to reading a green in golf, my instructor gave me some of the rules of thumb for this approach. First and foremost…stay LEFT of the rather large hill. Check. Even easier, just fly parallel to the runway (duh) and the turnpike (helpful) and about midway in between.
Turn to base must be done before the turnpike bridge crosses the river. When you look at it, that’s PLENTY of space even with my newbie skills. Go beyond the bridge, however, and the folks over at KMDT will get a little agitated.
On final, it couldn’t be much easier. Nice row of really long warehouses directly in line with the runway heading. It’s a super extended center line. And then, probably the best thing. 4 Box VASI. I guess as a purist, one shouldn’t need lighted indicators to know if you are on the proper glideslope but as a beginner, having that external “gauge” was priceless.
Still was a little high (as is my tendency) but we got down relatively smoothly. I landed somewhere else! Actually went somewhere in an airplane I flew.
We turned around and were cleared for takeoff. The adrenaline rush was still on but my brain was still replaying all that had just happened, even as we were climbing back into the air. BAD MOVE. Gotta stay focused on what’s immediately happening and what’s going to happen. I got a little correction from my instructor when I didn’t make my first turn quick enough. One plane on the ground taking off soon (and into us) and another inbound we had to get over. So, that’s another lesson I learned. STAY PRESENT!
Got a little worse because now we were a bit too far west…and now quite cozy with the Rather Large Hill. My instructor, being on the right side of the aircraft was quite adamant about making a left turn across the turnpike.
With that fixed it was time to do the approach. Once again…too many things going on in my head and I had everything going on but a stabilized approach. Came in a little high and called a go around. So, that’s why we were cleared for the option.
One more lap around, this time in much better configuration. Landing 2 was equal to landing 1. A little more pressure on it this time because she said it would be our last one there for the day. I wanted to make sure it happened (again, that’s another improper attitude but it most definitely got me focused).
Landed, got our departure clearance (must learn CRAFT), lined back up and took off back towards Carlisle.
When we got to our cruise altitude and things got quiet again, the brain got caught up and I just started laughing. My instructor, who already must think I am at least a little off, looked back at me questioningly. I simply said, “well that’s gotta be the coolest thing I’ve ever done”. In hindsight, probably an exaggeration but at that moment, that was my world, and I was FLYING in it.
Arriving Carlisle we see Life Lion out on the ramp. Since we are inbound for landing we have the right of way over departing traffic BUT, one of those local courtesies…if they are trying to get out, it’s to save someone’s life so they can always go first. They weren’t spooled up yet so we decided to enter the pattern and land. This time I had all the controls and all the radio work. I’d like to say I squeaked it on but once again I came in too fast, flared to early, and floated for a while too high until I ran out of airspeed and kind of plopped down on the runway. Still…it was an ok landing.
In de-brief I was told I did a really good job. I did mention I hadn’t expected to do the landings at Capital City. I just got a smile on that comment.
Questions from me? No.
Questions / commands from her: Finish the pre-solo written exam and get that Medical completed quickly…hope that all means what I think it means.