A Working Vacation

Life’s been crazy.  It’s not a bad thing at all but things do tend to go from 0 to 11 back to 0 again quite often. It had been a week at 11. On the plus side, I like to know I can run at 11 for a while.

This one goes to 11

After a long week at work, a long weekend to unwind and, get some solo time in.

Saturday was already out which is a shame because the weather was perfect. It happens.

Sunday was my lesson day. The plan was still the same one from the week before. Get that solo to the practice area done.


Hmm…where did the mountains go???

The forecast called for clearing but not by 9AM. I had everything ready but had to enter my own holding pattern. Tried to do a few helpful things around the house but really wanted to be out of there and in the air.

The plane wasn’t scheduled until later in the day so I did have some buffer time in that regard.  I really needed to be back by noon though because life and personal scheduling demanded that.

At 9AM there was some pretty good clearing.  Ceilings were up to 6000 but the visibility was still only 6.  I needed 7+ based on my limits. Text to my CFI was that I was going to get the weather brief and plan to attempt the flight around 10AM.  Agreed.

I got to the field around 9:45 and started pre-flight. Even if the flight wasn’t going to happen I would get some more “face time” with the plane which is never a bad thing. The ATIS / METAR data gets updated around 56 after the hour and that’s about when my instructor was planeside. We discussed the 6 miles visibility and I pulled up the newest information. 8 miles. So, based on that, I can fly! We did discuss it though and, living in the valley, the data vs. actual conditions can vary wildly. The agreed plan was to finish pre-flight and take off in the pattern. Fly a circuit and check out the conditions from the air and the relative proximity of the pattern. The north ridge of the mountains (who am I kidding…they are hills) is 8 miles. If you can’t see them, you don’t have 8 miles.

This was perfectly fine for me. I’d go up.  If the visibility was there I would go out to the practice area.  If not, I would stay in the pattern and get some more landing practice.

She had another lesson so I was then fully on my own.

I’m still pretty excited about the whole concept of flying solo and thrilled to do it but it’s definitely all business now. With the milestone behind me, it’s time to get the work in.

I take off to the west and before 1200 feet the decision is already made.  Visibility is not 8 miles. Maybe 6 but definitely not 8. It’s difficult to get lost in that area but even so, right now I want to make sure I can ALWAYS see those mountains and my familiar landmarks.

So, back to the pattern and landing practice.

On the first lap, even though I was talking my way through each step, something just wasn’t clicking. Hard to explain.  I wasn’t behind the airplane but also not in sync with it. The landing was…sloppy. The speed was good but alignment was off, roundout was off, bounced, and then hit pretty good even though I was nowhere near stalling. Ok…a few cobwebs. Nothing major…just taxi it back and go do it right. I radioed my instructor and said the visibility was not good enough so I would stay in the pattern.

Wish I could say the next one was an improvement.

The cute one








Boy were the expletives flying.

In truth, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as it could be but it was definitely nose first. This is where I really wish I had a video camera because until it hit, the picture seemed ok to me. I knew I was a bit flat but not nose down. I think I was initially ok and did a double correction which ended in the nosewheel touching first. I was flat…I pulled back..more than I wanted to, and then instead of easing forward or just holding (PATIENCE!) I pushed forward. Fortunately, I didn’t bounce back up from there. I had added just a touch of power which pulled the plane up enough for the mains to get down and do their job. Of course, that’s the maneuver that only has a split second where it can work. If you wait or do it late, you’re flying again and most likely going to make the 2nd nosewheel bounce.

It was SICKENING. I was lucky, shaken, and pissed at myself. I radioed my CFI and explained what happened.  She had seen the whole thing. I was ready to pack it in for the day but she was already giving me a few pointers for the next circuit. She said it was definitely on the nose but not too bad.  She was more concerned about the throttle.

I was willing to wait for her and her student to leave but she said she still had some time before they departed. Still shaken, I went up again. I should have stayed on the ground for a few minutes.

Base to final I was a little high. Not normally a big deal but my brain was still replaying the previous landing so I was essentially scared off this approach. I did a go around.  Definitely the right decision but it let off another round of expletives.

My CFI took off with her student and I had the pattern to myself. Or so I thought.

On downwind I heard another plane announcing his approach and asking for traffic / runway advisory.  Never had to respond to that before and it turns out it was a great thing to have to do. He was 5 miles out to the east.  Some people get lazy and do straight ins but he was going to fly a pattern. I gave him my position, my intention to land and that I would have to back taxi (meaning…let me get out of his way). All was good. It got me out of my self-loathing and back to the task at hand.

My approach was pretty good and then it happened….

As I was coming in…for some reason, I remembered that my takeoff for the circuit that was ultimately a go around was really good. Very smooth both laterally and horizontally.  I remembered seeing that there were a pair of roadsigns on I81 right in line with the runway. When I had the runway made I pulled power and began the roundout. I looked down the runway and I could see those signs. I just focused on them and held them pretty steady in the windscreen until I could feel the plane settle. I then began to pull back into the flare. It had to be the best landing I ever did! And yet…there were still expletives! At least they were favorable this time. 🙂

I got off the runway to let the other guy land. I HAD to try that again. It wasn’t a fluke. Another smooth landing.

I’m not going to have roadsigns at the end of each runway but I learned that where I was previously looking was doing NOTHING in terms of helping me gauge the roundout and flare. I thought I was looking out in front of the aircraft but in truth, I probably never shifted my gaze more than 15 yards in front of the nose.

Wow, what a good lesson…and I did it myself.

After fueling and securing the plane my CFI had returned.  She asked if I had worked anything out. I just laughed, walked to the runway edge and pointed at the signs. Said something like, “Why didn’t you tell me those were there?” She wasn’t sold on the idea of those as a visual reference but did agree that I needed to be looking a lot further down the runway than I was.

I said I wanted to get up there and go around 10 more times….which, in itself was great because 20 minutes earlier I was ready to hang it up for a while.

She said….well, the plane’s available tomorrow so maybe you can sneak out on Labor Day.

Like I said…a working vacation!


–A side note. This was my first flight with my “big boy” headset.

They are awesome in so many ways. But in comparative terms, they are REALLY REALLY quiet. I read it in the reviews but didn’t translate it to the flight.

EVERYTHING sounds different and it’s on that first loop that I realized just how much I relied on sound to judge the status of the flight.


2 thoughts on “A Working Vacation

  1. Caitlin

    Is it cutting out the sound of the plane? I know my instructor encourages me to listen to how the plane sounds to better understand the power settings and knowing what the plane will do when it sounds a certain way.

    1. Ron Post author

      It definitely makes things quieter but I don’t think it cuts out the “sound” of the plane. You can still hear everything that is going on with the engine…it just sounds different than before and you have to get used to a new normal. On the communications side it is FAR superior. So much easier to hear and be heard.


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