Thursday, March 17, 2011

Adventures in Aviation, Part XIII

It’s Sunday, 9:10am and I’m late for my flying lesson. I blame daylight savings time. Has daylight savings time been screwing with anyone else as much as it’s been screwing with me this week? Usually I welcome the extra hours of daylight at the end of the day, but somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate just yet. Isn’t it January or something? Alas, it is not January, but March instead, and I’m hoping the day’s lesson goes better than the last one. Spoiler alert! No, it doesn’t.

Mr. Instructor and I do a preflight of the little red plane and discuss the day’s goals. We will make our way over to Oxnard, fly a couple of loops in the pattern so I can practice my landings, and then do some instrument training. A private pilot’s license (which is what I’m aiming for despite the fact that I SUCK), requires that pilots operate an aircraft following a set of rules called VFRs (Visual Flight Rules). That means you can only fly when the weather is relatively clear. If you wish to fly in weather that is worse than the VFR minimums (where you cannot control attitude and altitude by simply looking out the cockpit), you must get an additional “Instrument” endorsement. These rules are called IFRs (Instrument Flight Rules).

Our little trip to the heart of Boringville has a purpose! Mr. Instructor brought a snazzy pair of glasses called Foggles that I would be wearing during a portion of the lesson. The Foggles would block out all my visual references forcing me to use just the instruments (attitude, airspeed, and altittude indicators, heading bug) to fly the plane. Sounds like fun, huh? But before I could experiment with the Foogles, I would have to get some pattern work in.

We make it over to Oxnard without incident. Unless you count the part where I’m trying to communicate with Oxnard tower and Mr. Instructor jerks the plane to the right telling me I cannot go into their airspace until they respond to my call. Airspace? Don’t you think I would have to look at a map to understand where their airspace is? And don’t you think it’s your responsibility as an Instructor to go over that map with me? Minus 10 points for you!

We land at Oxnard and immediately take off to start our pattern work. I remember Mr. Instructor complaining that I was pulling the stick back too aggressively on takeoff during our last lesson (which could cause a stall), so I decide to be less aggressive by getting us off the ground first and then slowly pulling back. Things happen quickly when you’ve got full power and you’re airspeed’s alive, and apparently my slow pull back approach was not a good one. Mr. Instructor does a little spasm in his chair and gets his hands on the controls. Fast.

Mr. I: Whoa, what we’re you thinking? Did you see how the plane was dipping? We almost had a prop strike!
Me: Well last lesson you said I was being too aggressive with the elevator and that I should get us in the air, confirm that our airspeed was increasing and then start pulling back more. So that’s what I was trying to do.
Mr. I: Ya, but don’t let the plane sink back to the ground. That’s how prop-strikes happen. And I don’t think Wes would be very happy with you if you broke the prop.

The way he said it is very funny now, as though Wes would be more concerned about the prop than my safety if a prop strike was to occur, but starting a lesson where your Instructor basically says YOU SUCK, makes you feel like you suck. And that’s how the rest of the lesson went.

Scenario: I’m coming in for landing a little too fast. I touch down but my airspeed’s too high. The plane starts a little up-down, up-down number along the runway. Mr. Instructor says that when the plane starts lifting on and off the runway when you’re landing, the effects will double after each cycle, eventually causing you to slam into the ground if not corrected.
Conclusion: I suck.

Scenario: We’re taking off, and the plane is veering to the right. Out of habit I apply more right rudder (you generally need to do this to counteract propwash) sending the plane WAY to the right. Mr. Instructor forcefully responds to my mistake by applying left rudder and taking hold of the controls. He tells me to apply the corresponding rudder pressure IN THE DIRECTION I want the plane to go. If it’s going to the right (as it was in this instance), apply left rudder. Left rudder is still on my brain as we’re taking off for the next loop in the pattern. Except this time the plane was veering to the left and my reaction sends it swinging EVEN MORE left. Mr. Instructor forcefully responds to my mistake by applying right rudder and taking hold of the controls.
Conclusion: I double suck.

All this time Mr. Instructor is commenting on what a beautiful day it is to be flying. That’s like a guy telling a girl “It’s not you honey, it’s me. We need to take a break so I can work out my emotional issues”. Really? I get it. The weather’s perfect, you’re practically Instructor of the Year, and I still can’t fly this damn plane. It’s me. I have the issues.

But I will have you know that the instrument portion of the lesson (where I got to wear those awesome Foggles) went pretty well. I didn’t crash! And I remained positive despite Mr. Instructor’s comment that 60% of pilots who fly into clouds without the appropriate instrument rating DIE. I think he actually said it like this: Here are Foggles. We will use them to simulate what it’s like flying in the clouds. Although, NEVER fly into the clouds. You WILL DIE if you fly into the clouds.

Mr. Instructor's really good at scare tactics, and all the stress of this last lesson has remained with me throughout the week.

Wes (that's him above, the shadow with the small head) had the courage to ask me whether there was anything else stressing me out this week. Oh you mean the wedding I still have to plan and the plane I can’t fly? No, I think that’s enough stress thank-you-very-much.

There is one upside to the fact that I’ve been stressed lately. I’ve given myself license to drink lots of champagne. And it's helping.

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