“For the next lesson I want you to plan a flight up to Selinsgrove”. Fresh off and overly confident from a very successful night cross country flight to Reading, my quick fire response was, “That’s a simple flight….I just follow the river”. I really have to filter myself.
In the interim between that night flight and the Selinsgrove flight I scheduled one solo flight. I’ll do more work on Soft and Short field takeoffs and landings but on another day. For the solo flight it was simply out to the practice area to nail PTS on some maneuvers.
Ironically, I had read this cover article not too long ago. I won’t dwell on it too long but I must share to enforce the learning and embed the shame. It is also relevant to the second half of the article title (although, more like distractions)
It was a frosty morning so I knew there would be some delay in my flight time. No issue. I would go pick up donuts for everyone and at least get the preflight done in advance. Besides being really cold out, the preflight was routine. Just needed a quart of oil. Of course, no spare oil in the plane so off to the hangar. This is the beginning of the chain. I had to go to the hangar for the oil. A chance to say hello to everyone. I get the oil and off to the aircraft. I had finished the rest of the checklist already so it was just a matter of putting the oil in. No big deal. My CFI came out and checked the wings…still frosty. She said to come back to the hangar and help out with the donuts. I finished up and obeyed the order.
My CFI, a fellow student and I spent about 20 minutes in the hangar talking and ingesting sugar. Good times as always. The two of us had initially been pretty even on our training progress but, with bad weather, business travel, and vacation, we have each experienced a different level of “delay”. I’m ahead but it’s definitely not a competition. In fact, I’ve been purposely getting out there a little early each day he’s scheduled for a morning flight because I want to see his first solo.
With the sun now helping out, it’s time to go practice. First, I head off to the office for a quick pit stop and then make the walk back down the ramp. I notice my fellow student, and CFI, and a new white van huddled around the Piper. Curiosity gets the best of me so I, of course, stop back to see what’s going on.
Question from CFI: “Are you any good at picking locks?”
After so much educational torment from her, I couldn’t resist…”Let me get this straight…you locked the keys in the airplane??? How is that even possible??? Seems like that should be a checklist item!!” All with a smile of course and a laugh all around. Little did I know I just busted Karma.
So, trying to be ever helpful I assessed the situation. The keys were hanging from the sunshade because the student had started the preflight and the CFI had closed the door while we waited for the sun to come up. Again…the checklist process was broken .
The spare set of keys were in the CFI’s bag which was no safely secured INSIDE the plane. The guy in the van didn’t have a spare spare set. I walked around to the pilot side. Notice the little vent window. Being a nicely “aged” plane, the screw is a little loose. You can turn it with your fingers and the vent falls open. That part I was pretty proud of.
Not so proud of…I was able to stick my entire arm in there, reach to sunshade and grab the key. Happy to retrieve the key but looking at the size of the vent window…I gotta hit the weights again!
Ok…now to the plane for the solo flight. Finally. Or at least I thought. I got in the cockpit and was getting things ready for departure. Checklist in hand….
Up comes another student. On the plus side, it is absolutely GREAT that there are more and more students around. We need that tremendously. He had recently done his first night flight so we talked about that for a few minutes. Definitely interested to share experiences. He also recently bought his own plane. I said I’d love to see it sometime. Response: “Would you like to see it now??” Me, respectfully….”I’d love to see it but right now I want to go flying!” So, I have that to look forward to.
Ok…back to the checklist. It had been at least 45 minutes. I go through the pre-start items and am ready to start up. Since I had broken the checklist chain quite a few times, something inside me thought to take a quick look from the cockpit outside. Pitot tube cover off, cones clear, chocks away from wheels…wait, what’s that? Holy Crap!
Laying there on the right wheel chock (which was dutifully pulled away from the right wheel) was the oil dipstick. I put the oil in the engine, closed the door but totally forgot to replace the dipstick.
No idea exactly what would have happened had I started the engine like that but VERY glad I didn’t. My rationalizing mind said…well, you were going to get fuel first anyway so anything bad would have happened on the ground. REALLY?
Sheepishly, I slipped out of the airplane trying to avoid attention, thoroughly cleaned off the retrieved dipstick and placed it back in its place..and checked it 5 times.
Totally unacceptable mistake but something one can definitely learn from.
For me…checklist must be followed. That didn’t change. Slight modification. If something comes up and checklist must be delayed, I MUST fully finish and verify the one item I am on. Maybe someday I’ll get to a flow pattern but right now..it’s line by line.
Once up in the air, the flight went well.
Slow flight…controlled right to stall horn. Straight and level, shallow turns. Recover.
First solo power off stall work…a little more daunting than I expected. Not sure why. Otherwise routine. Need to do power on stalls.
Turns about a point…decent but I need to pick a consistent entry airspeed and initial radius.
Steep turns…Probably only 40 degrees so have to get them a little steeper. Otherwise, they were to PTS both right and left. Particularly happy to get the little “bump” on roll out indicating I completed the circle perfectly and ran across my original wake.
Only one landing, in front of the Wounded Warriors group and a formation of helicopters. Greased it which was a nice change of pace since there were a lot of people watching.
So, along with some basic flight maneuvers, I “soloed” on distractions, which will be part of the practical test. It was a real world test which I barely passed but a lesson which I will not forget.