Thursday, March 3, 2011

Adventures in Aviation, Part XII

This past weekend I thought I’d give myself a break from flying lessons and catch up on my reading. All this crazy talk about soloing has made the reality of my ill preparedness very clear. I also generally go to the airport when Wes goes to the airport, and as of Friday, it appeared this weekend was going to be an airport free weekend. Well things didn’t turn out that way, and I figured since my significant other was going to the airport on Sunday, I might as well go too.

I managed to catch up on a little reading before my lesson. Nothing important, just boring old flight instruments and Federal Aviation Regulations. Not like I’m going to need to know that stuff. Then it was in the plane and off we go. This time I wasn’t as frazzled with the responsibility of communicating and operating the plane without Mr. Instructor’s input.

Camarillo is always busy on the weekends, and as we pulled up to the run-up area, it became apparent we were going to have to wait awhile before taking off. It’s during this time, while we’re waiting for our turn to depart and listening to tower direct airport traffic, when I wonder about the stress levels of the air traffic controllers. They have to manage dozens of planes coming in and out of their airport, not to mention the random bozos like me that take forever to repeat back commands. They must be stressed out!

On this particular Sunday, tower was frustrated with two planes that were responding to their call at the same time. Tower would call “Five three charlie bravo, state altitude and current heading” and the plane would respond with “five three charlie, bravo. One thousand feet, at two six zero, inbound” plus a weird echo repeating the call. You can imagine the danger involved if two planes were to follow the same instructions from tower (can you say collision?), so the air traffic controller became increasingly frustrated with these continuing communication errors. Even though we were still on the ground, it made me nervous to hear this incident unfold over the radio. But then the tower said “It sounds like someone’s communicating with a ground radio”, to which a child’s voice responded with “Ya, it’s me. Is that bad?” Tower: “Yes, it’s very bad. STOP TALKING”. It appears that some little kid got ahold of a radio and onto tower’s frequency, and after hearing all the exciting airplane talk, decided to pretend he was a real live fighter pilot! Yay for him! NOT.

I asked Mr. Instructor if we could keep the day’s lesson down to an hour and focus on touch-and-goes. He agreed and we made our way over to Oxnard. Our first landing at Oxnard was a full stop. Mr. Instructor wanted to “set up” for the day’s lesson: having me do three loops in the pattern without him saying or doing anything. If I can demonstrate competence in being able to fly the pattern and land without his help, he thinks I will be soloing in the next couple of lessons. That may sound exciting to you, but I’ve been having nightmares and spontaneous bowel movements because of it all week long (sorry, I know that’s disgusting, but I’m trying to emphasize my nervousness). Anyways! Back to the story!

So off I go to do my three loops in the pattern. Pattern work isn’t difficult for me and my landings are generally acceptable. Except Sunday it was breezy, and I had to follow a retard flying the pattern in front of me. Seriously, he was going extra slow and would fly out a mile farther than he was supposed to, which meant I had to do some serious compensating to ensure I wasn’t flying my little red plane up his butt. It was annoying. Then as I’m flying along, the plane starts spontaneously turning to the left. Freaking out, I turn to Mr. Instructor and say “I’m not doing that! What’s going on!?” He calmly recommends I apply subtle pressure to the rudder pedals because he believes the tail wind we’re experiencing is causing the unusual turbulence.

Hello God? Are you there? I don’t want to die when I solo. Yet it’s all I can think about lately. Please give me my confidence back. I keep trying to compare my flying lessons to when I took driving lessons, and I don’t remember feeling like I was going to die the first time I drove a car by myself. So why do I think I’m going to die the minute I’m in the plane by myself? Wes tells me that statistically I haven’t been flying long enough to have an engine quit on me, but I have a funny feeling this isn’t about statistics. Maybe it’s about you hearing how good my cooking is and wanting me to come up to heaven to make you dinner. Trust me, my cooking isn’t that good. It sucks actually. You don’t want me making you dinner. So please don’t let me die when I solo. I’d really appreciate it.

Well I didn’t die in the turbulence, and I managed to complete three loops in the pattern plus three ROUGH landings without Mr. Instructor’s help. He did say it was unfair to judge my flying because of the wind. I think he saw how freaked out I was and was trying to make me feel better. After we got back to Camarillo, Wes and I had lunch at the airport café and then walked up and down the rows of planes. It was a perfect, relaxing way to end the day. The nightmares didn’t kick in until a day later.

And I almost forgot! Check out the awesome new plane we’ve been flying.

It flies great even with the duct tape.

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