Thursday, February 24, 2011

Adventures in Aviation, Part XI

I don’t have a regular flying schedule. I try to take a lesson each week, but work, weekends out of town, and weather often get in the way. This is probably why I’ve only accumulated 11 hours over the 3 months I’ve been taking lessons. This is also probably why I won’t get my pilot’s license for 100 years. You have to put in the practice time (I’m averaging 4 hours a month), plus the reading time (I’m averaging negative 4 hours a month), so this is going to take me a long time!

I scheduled a lesson for this past Sunday, and remarkably, nothing interfered with my plan. It was a lovely cool morning and only a wisp of wind was blowing through the air. I’m trying to remember if I felt nervous on the drive over to the airport. I usually do, because, uh, flying is nerve-wracking! But I’m getting to the point where I see it as a task, one that I’m becoming more competent in performing, as opposed to a chore, where if I screw up it’s ruler on my knuckles! Or plane crashed into the ground, either way.

I greet Mr. Instructor at the hangar and complete my preflight inspection of the plane. There’s some oil leaking out the front cowling, but we determine it’s overflow from the oil tank and nothing to be too concerned about. I’m going to make a bold assertion here and say that airplane maintenance is about patterns. If you notice something wrong on more than one occasion, you should take that as a sign to investigate it more. It’s also not a bad idea to make a pattern out of servicing your bird. But that’s what I have Wes for (wink, wink). Now that I re-read that, it might make you think I meant something other than what I did. What I meant was: I am too lazy and ill-informed on all things mechanical, that I use Wes’s brains and brawns to do it for me. Not sure if that’s any better, but it’s time to move on (ramble much, Jocelyn?)

Once we’re in the cockpit, Mr. Instructor asks if I would like to hear what he would like to do during today’s lesson. Why yes Mr. Instructor, do tell!

Mr. I: I would like you to start the plane, taxi, do the warm up etc. while communicating with ground and tower, take off and fly us over to Oxnard for touch-and-goes. And I’m not going to say anything.
Me: Uh…
Mr. I: I think you’re capable of that. You don’t need me to do anything and I’m not going to say anything unless it’s hazardous to our safety. So let’s go.
Me: Uh…

Actually Mr. Instructor, I would NOT like to hear what you would like to do today. You wanna hear what I want to do today? I would like to get a massage, have a mimosa and then get my nails manicured. Because yesterday I spent the day building an awning for my new mobile home and the roofing material, which weighs a million pounds, smashed my fingers into the ground and ruined my self-applied manicure, so now I’m left with chipped nails and bruised fingers! Oh, and an awning for the mobile home. Awesome.

I didn’t have the guts to whine and cry about my manicure to Mr. Instructor, so I decided to suck it up and do as instructed, very slowly… and deliberately… like … I had never … done … it … before. It’s funny how when you’re put in the hot seat, something that is so routine becomes extremely difficult and confusing. I did manage to get us airborne and on our way to Oxnard without incident. It wasn’t until we were approaching Oxnard and the tower told us to enter right traffic for Runway 7 that I became confused.

Me: I’ve never landed at Runway 7 before! I’ve always landed at Runway 25. I’m not sure how to do this!
Mr. I: That’s ok. But you have to be prepared to use both runways depending on the wind conditions, so this is a perfect opportunity to practice it. Follow along that road you see running parallel to the runway and then make your right base and final turns as you would if you were in the traffic pattern.

Nothing like jumping right in to do something you’ve never done before. And speaking of things which have never been done before, just as we complete our touch-and-go on Runway 7 and are lifting off, the tower calls and says they are switching traffic to Runway 25. They say we can enter left traffic on climb out and circle the airport, or we can make a 180 and land back at the airport on Runway 25. (*Just to note, Runway 7 and Runway 25 are the same strip of runway. They are named differently based on the opposite directions they point on a compass: 70 degrees versus 250 degrees.) Apparently, this 180 turn is known as the “Impossible Turn”. I’ll explain: If you were taking off and your engine quits while you are still under 500 feet (no engine means you’re going down baby), the emergency procedure to follow would be to land the plane straight ahead, even if that means into a field, on a street, etc. You would think that since you are still close to the airport (remember, your engine quit just as you were climbing out) you could just turn around and land on the runway. Not so. Generally, you do not have enough altitude or power to glide back to the runway, so attempting it is more dangerous than making an emergency landing somewhere other than the airport. Well Mr. Instructor saw this as a perfect opportunity to try something he’s never done before: the “Impossible Turn”. He cuts the engine and declares “We’re simulating an engine failure. Let’s see if this plane can make it back to the airport given the current conditions. I’ve never done this before. This should be interesting!” Thank goodness he also said “My plane”, because I was really confused (the "Impossible Turn" wasn't explained to me until we were back on the ground). Luckily, we made it back to the airport, but just barely. The lesson learned is if the engine dies on the little red plane on takeoff, and we’re at or below 500 feet, you better not try to make it back to the airport. Just cruise on into someone’s backyard and ask them for a sandwich.

The rest of the lesson was spent flying the pattern and practicing landings. Turns out I’m getting better at landing. I did a good 3 or 4 landings all by myself! Not that this means I know what I’m doing, I’m just getting luckier. Mr. Instructor was impressed and said that I’m getting closer to … solo. This makes me excited and terrified at the same time. There’s no way I’m prepared to fly by myself, and I’m guessing Mr. Instructor keeps talking about it as a scare tactic. I did finally admit that I’m behind on my reading, although I blamed it on my fiancé who insists I build roofs on the weekend as opposed to study (under the bus he goes!), and I don’t see why I can’t continue to use it as an excuse.

“I’m sorry Mr. Instructor. I can’t solo yet because I’m confused on how the rudder works. And that whole pitot tube airspeed thing, that's tricky too. Just let me read those Chapters again and I’ll get back to you. Thanks.”

It’s genius.

And if you're curious, here's a look inside the cockpit of the plane I fly. Crazy huh? This is where I make the magic happen.

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