March 1996 -- Well, I'm finally doing it. After everything I've ever thought about, every time Jason's bugged me about getting started, every time I've looked at an airplane and thought about "what if...", here I am at the Greenwood, IN airport (HFY), starting my lessons. Choosing your instructor is the most important part of the whole deal, I've heard. But, in the end, it was pretty much as simple as me calling Steve (the FBO operator here) and saying, "I hear you guys give some flight instruction down there." My instructor, Phil, seems kind of strange, though -- He's really business-like, really slow to open up and really talk about flying. Not at all like Jason. Maybe it's because he has to be, I don't know, but I do know that it's nothing like what I thought it would be. There's a lot to learn, and I thought I knew it pretty well, but it's different when you really have to go up and do it, think about every little thing, and like that. A computer simulation just isn't the same. I told him to push me, but that I did already know some things. I don't think he's going to take anything for granted, though, nor should he. If I were him, I'd be pretty annoyed, with someone calling me up, asking if we did spins. I suppose I'll do spins when I'm darned good and ready, and not before. The discipline of doing it his way will make me a much better pilot, and, according to Jason, a much different person, as well. This is the way we earn our wings, I guess. It'll be expensive, and take a lot of time I know I don't have, but when you want something, you make the time and money for it, and that's how it has to be. They don't give pilot's licenses away, or sell them at K-Mart, but I'm going to earn one. I'm going to be the best pilot Phil ever taught to fly.
First three "lessons" were spent talking. When are we going to go up? I feel like I know enough already that I shouldn't have to be paying to sit and go over old stuff. This is part of the discipline, I suppose. Maybe a little bit about some of the real goals I have for aviation would be in order. First, I want to be able to fly. To go places. To just every once in a while be able to get up where nobody's around to screw with me, and have my fate in my hands. To hang on the air (thank you, Mr. Bernoulli), and just kind of forget everything on the ground for a while. Then, I want to teach other people how to fly. I know all too well that there's a big difference between being able to do something, and teaching someone else how to do it. To do that, you have to know it. I can, and will, know it that well. Then, there are eclipses. I want to see two eclipses in particular -- one in Northern Greenland, and one on Easter Island. Last time I checked, Delta doesn't go there. But I will. Jason's taken me up a few times, and it seems like something I can do. So, why not? I especially remember one cold night, showing up at HFY to fly the Warrior, and finding ice all over the wings. We ended up shoveling snow away from the hangar door so we could pull it in among the other planes that were being worked on, letting the ice melt off, and towel-drying the whole thing till it was good enough to go out in. I knew we had done something special when Steve said, "You boys must really want to go flying tonight!"
3/31 -- Today would've been my first day up, but weather kept us down. Phil is kind of starting to loosen up, and I'm starting to see his cool side a little. He really knows a lot, being instrument, commercial, and CFI. A model for me to emulate.
4/1 -- How appropriate that my first time in the left seat should be on April Fool's Day. Of course, Harry called me up to tell me that there had been a truck accident on County Line Rd., and that the Greenwood airport was closed. He had me just about to the point of turning on the radio before he let me have it. I guess it was just the first of many times the field of aviation would humble me more than I'm used to. Good. I need that. The flight really felt good, considering Phil actually let me do a few things. I'm going to do my preflights as carefully as I can. No room for screw-ups if you want her to be your friend up there. I can't taxi for beans, though! All over the place (except for on the center line, where I should be). The plane is controlled by the throttle a lot more than I thought, especially while taxiing. There's a lot to look out for, too -- lots of little knobs and gauges, even on a plane this small.
4/5 -- Went up again today. I'm being really careful to do a thorough preflight, establishing good habits and like that. Phil lets me take all the time I want, but it still seems like it should go faster. It's probably not possible to (1) know too much about the plane you're flying, and (2) make sure everything's all right with it all before you go up. No Shell stations at 3,000 ft. I've seen how to check fuel, but today I brought a little water out so I could see what it looks like in avgas. Pretty unmistakable. Slow flight was kind of neat. I don't know when you'd actually do that, but I guess if you can fly slow, you can fly normal. I keep meaning to read the outside temp. gauge, just to see if it's really colder "up there".
4/8 -- My first landing attempt today. It wasn't very successful. I feel like Phil has to keep right on top of the controls, because I'm always about this close to killing us both. Maybe that's not a bad thing, but I feel like I should be able to do this. It seems like I can't ever learn anything the first time I try it -- that it's always better the second time, and keeps getting better after that. Duh. That's how it should be. Well, with landings, let's hope they keep getting better. Pretty wild. Phil let me take off by myself. You really have to walk a fine line between letting the plane stay on the ground too long, and yanking it up in the air before it's ready to fly. It's not that hard on Flight Sim. Tells you something.
4/10 -- Did stalls today for the first time. I guess this is the point when you find out whether you'll be able to fly or not, because it is a very unusual thing to be doing in an airplane. Good for a few lawsuits if you felt anything like that on Delta. As the plane's nose breaks down, you get a negative-G feeling (although it's not nearly as much as it feels like), and stuff floats. Your checklist, the pen you had lying in your lap, your stomach wondering why it's never seen this much of your esophagus before.... It really kind of scared me the first time, but then I wanted to do it 100 times, until I knew how to do it. Of course, once you learn one kind of stall, there are 5 or 6 others waiting to have fun with you. On the drive away from the airport, I actually found myself pulling back on the steering wheel every time I'd go up a hill! That's twisted. Also, that little 7-year-old girl died in a small plane crash in Wyoming yesterday. The stupidest accident possible. Things like that don't really bother me -- there's a risk involved in all this, but you can minimize it in direct proportion to how careful you are, how much you plan, and how well you know everything involved in aviation. So, on we go.
4/12 - 4/15 -- The weather is really getting me down. Can't fly, so we have to go over all this book stuff that I thought I knew already. I do learn something every time, though, so it can't be all bad. Phil is really getting cool. I think I'll probably end up being a very different kind of pilot than he is, but that's OK -- I'm a different person than he is, and aviation can be to you whatever you bring to it. There's room for everybody. Why didn't I do this in high school?
4/17 -- Finally flew again today. The weather was absolutely perfect, with no turbulence at all. I finally felt what the plane feels like all by itself. We did some steep turns, where you feel the Gs. Of course, Jason would say it's no big deal, but he's used to flying the Stearman. In the "Trauma"hawk, it is a big deal. At this point, everything I learn, and learn well, is a big deal. There were a couple of interesting things that happened today. First, as we were watching someone else taxi out toward the runway, Phil told Steve kind of nonchalantly to call him up and get him back here. He still had the tow bar attached to his nose wheel. Taking off like that would not have been a good thing. Definite plane damage, and maybe worse. Always give your plane a last look before you get in. Starting to taxi with one of the tie-downs still in place wouldn't be a great way to start your trip, either. In the air, we came pretty close to somebody else who didn't see us, or at least didn't tell us he was coming through the area. When I started the engine, I had left my headset sitting on the wing. I knew it was there; I was just going to get it after I fired the thing up. Of course, that meant I had to get out of the plane and go get it on the ground where it blew off the wing once the prop got hold of it! Even in a little plane, that's about a 50-knot wind. Forgot to lock the primer for the first and last time. Phil also left his door unlatched until we were up. My takeoffs are still sloppy, and I can't land on my own yet. Just a matter of time until I can go up SOLO (sigh) and do everything I want. That'll be great, if I make it. Of course, I want it all, right now. That has to take a back seat; I'd better get used to not being as good as I want to be.
Dad tells me I must have a death wish for even wanting to fly. He says he won't go up with me until he's a little older and is ready to die. He's even told me I wouldn't get my inheritance if I died! (That's a real threat; my dad never talks about money.) Of course, he always has the option of giving it to me right now, though I don't think he appreciated my pointing that out to him very much.
The overall feeling I have right now, 2-1/2 weeks into this and still not taxiing very well, is like a kindergartner at a new school. I feel really powerless and stupid, but I'll tell you what -- it's starting to become addicting. Going to work has a whole new meaning, like if I sell this, how many minutes in the plane will my commission buy? Why is it such a nice day, and I'm not at the airport? All these poor fools on the road in their cars -- how many of them are still gravity-bound? You really feel sorry for people who don't fly.
I still don't have my medical yet, and it's starting to get irritating. But I don't get those claustrophobic feelings in the cockpit that I used to. This is a do-able thing for me, and I'm doing it! Why didn't I do it ten years ago?
4/21 -- Great lesson today! Now I definitely feel sorry for people who can't have this feeling! We went to Shelbyville and landed twice. I know I had control all the time on both landings. We did steep turns, stalls, and reviewed everything else. I'm ready to go! My whole attitude toward the rest of the day (at work) was just, like, MADE because I flew this morning (and you didn't -- ha, ha!). I taxied pretty good today, but my takeoffs could still be better. I did have to sit at the hold-short point on runway waiting for some idiot (who knew I was waiting on him) to back-taxi down the runway to take off again! Oh well, at least I was sitting in an airplane. Just one of those days that makes up a hundred times for all the bad ones.
4/22 -- Weather kept me down today. I'm hoping I can still get my first solo in this week, but there's no way until I get my medical. I called the doctor today (it's been three weeks), and found out they forgot to send my stuff to the FAA! I was not pleased. They promised me they would get it out overnight, but I don't trust an old-school doctor who won't own a computer or a fax machine. Hope the pony express fed their horses.
4/24 -- Great day today. I thought the weather might be a factor, but we got some good time in. Phil's really cutting up with me now, and our lessons are getting to be very enjoyable. He was teasing me on climbout today, about "Come on! Hold 70 knots! What kind of airline are you running here? I want some peanuts! I want something to drink! I want my money back!" I'm just laughing right along with him, wondering whether his door is latched tight enough or not... No, really he's just trying to provide me with some distractions, to see how I do. No problem. And before we took off, he had forgotten a chart. He left me in the plane, and while running into the FBO, shouted "Just take her around the patch a couple times -- I'll be right out!" Now, if he'd signed my logbook, I just might have taken him up on it. We did a lot more stalls, went to Mt. Comfort airport and did some emergency procedures. One of my landings was actually acceptable, but the one we did simulating a takeoff engine-out was amazing. Haul the plane back to the runway and slam it down. I asked him if that didn't hurt the plane, and he said no. It's amazing what that thing will put up with. I wouldn't want anybody doing that in my plane. Not that I'll have to worry about having a plane to loan out before I hit the lottery. Watch the radio towers -- they creep up on you. Think. Plan ahead. Enter the pattern on a 45° downwind. There are so many things to think about, and I want to do them all, 100 times until I master them. Air molecules are for breathing and to hold you up, and I want those two things to be about the same. Dream about flying, but don't fly about dreaming. I want to be as good as Phil and Jason, able to do anything, able to handle any situation a student who has no idea what he's doing can throw at me.
On one of my stalls, the plane pitched right, then hard left. I mean, we were on our sides! But, a ton of right rudder, throttle and nose down got it out. Just release the forward pressure to ease the plane out of it, and you just flew it out of a bad situation. Flew it, like as in, in control of it. Flying is right up there with music as being one of the cooler things I could imagine a person doing.
4/26 -- Out for a quick trip today. We were just going to do some ground stuff, but the wind and weather were perfect for doing some crosswind stuff. So, we did. Just a quick hop to a big field for some pattern practice, crabbing into a pretty stiff wind and matching bank angle on the turns with airspeed. I think I got a pretty good feel for it, which is what I'd hoped for. You can read this stuff in a book all you want, but there's no substitute for feeling your backside press into the seat in a 50° turn while the wind is trying to blow you into the next county. It's neat. I'm at 7.6 hours now, and I'm a few more landings away from soloing. That will be cool. Maybe in a week or two?? We also looked over the charts a little bit. Still lots to learn, but I'm glad for all the studying I've done up to now. Hopefully, I'll learn the rest faster, more efficiently, and with less strain on the checkbook (which is really starting to talk to me at this point. LOUD!)
4/30 -- Went up today in about as marginal a crosswind as you could have. Went to Columbus for a bunch of touch-and-gos, and to talk to a real control tower. My landings were OK, but I'm still chasing my airspeed indicator instead of getting visual bearings on final. The landing at HFY was amazingly crazy. With a 20° crosswind, we basically landed with one wheel in the grass. I think that if tomorrow's lesson goes well (i.e., I figure out how to land), I'll be soloing real soon. Up to 8.8 hours, and after today's bumpy ride, it's pretty hard to feel like I know anything about what I'm doing.
5/1 -- Today was the worst I hope I ever do in aviation. All we did was pattern stuff - take off and land, over and over. Only once did I do an acceptable landing. The others were all terrible. My takeoffs are much better, and taxiing is no problem, but I don't know how I'll ever learn to fly if I can't get the feel of landing. Maybe it's all just to break you down so you keep that respect for the plane that you have to have. Whatever it is, I left the airport today feeling very stupid, wondering why I ever thought I could learn to fly, thinking I had wasted an entire lesson because I want too much too fast. I was tired, too, and that has to have had something to do with it. Next time will have to be better, or it'll be time for a career decision. Jason said I'll probably solo next time, but if Phil's crazy enough to let me solo, I'll kill myself trying to land. It really is as hard as they say.
Also, my medical has become a real snafu. A month ago tomorrow, I went to the doctor. Because of my heart history, he wanted the FAA to issue the cert., and asked for all my records. I busted butt to get them all to him, and called him a week ago. Like I wrote then, the stuff hadn't even been sent out. They promised me it would go out overnight right away. Well, I called the FAA today, to see what the progress was. They just got it all yesterday! Unbelievable. The lady was real nice, though, and said they'd get right on it, and fax me confirmation on Monday. I also went ahead and had them upgrade the request to 2nd class, so I can think about my CFI in a year. (Provided I ever learn how to land.) So anyway, that's one doctor's office I don't think I'll recommend to anyone. I see now why he charges $10 less than the others.
5/3 -- No word yet from the FAA, and after today, I'm ready to solo. 6 landings, and I did them all. A couple were really good, and no really bad ones. Phil let me do everything, like a simulated engine-out on takeoff, and not helping me out when I kept telling him I didn't have enough altitude on final. I throttled up and made the runway, and he told me those were the kinds of decisions I'd be making myself, so I better get used to them. On one landing, I was too high, so I put in my 2nd notch of flaps. That got me down, though a little hot. We bounced a little, but he told me that if that was what I thought I should do, then that's what I should've done. I felt very good about what I did, and feel like he would've let me solo today if I only had my medical. I'll know Monday, and I'm going to take a couple of days off to get that squared away, let my checkbook rest a while, and let everything I've learned kind of sink in. All in all, it was a pretty good day.
5/6 -- Weird day today. I had called the FAA this morning to find out whether my medical was OK. The lady there told me they'd be sending the certificate out, and I should have it within a couple of days. I told her that I'd given my credit card number to them so they could Fedex it, and while she had me on hold to go check on it, Fedex knocked on the door. They had my certificate. I was happy, and she was surprised. I didn't get to solo today, though, because the weather moved in on us while we were doing touch-and-gos. I did two really good landings, and two from 1600' that I had to slip down onto the runway. Phil said I did good, and I fully expected him to let me go up then and there. I was really nervous, knowing I was going to kill myself if he did, but it didn't happen. We lost our ceiling and visibility, and went back to the FBO for my written pre-solo test. He let me do it open book, and I did pretty well. Only a couple of them I didn't know. The next good day, I'll do a couple of stalls to show him I still remember how, and then...!!!
5/8 -- I practically aced that test, but rain and clouds kept us down. It's literally rained every day for the last two weeks, with not much relief in sight. We did some ground stuff about weight and balance, density altitude and like that. I feel like I knew them pretty well already, but, like always, I always find things I didn't know as well as I thought. Will try this again in two days.
5/10 -- Today was great; I'm ready to solo! Two of the best landings ever, and all maneuvers done well. We did simulated departure stalls today, and we came about as close as you'd want to making the plane spin. When you recover, it's an amazing feeling; we were darned near at a 90° bank angle, heading right for the ground on one of them. Of course, there's no danger, since you're 3000 feet up, but it's still pretty neat. Phil told me I'm ready for flight #8, which is the solo. I can't wait!!
5/11 -- [ValuJet crash today. I heard about it at the airport, waiting for the weather to break (it never did). Again, not a problem. Somebody did something wrong, and 110 people paid for it. They won't know for a while what really happened, and besides, let's just compare one plane accident in a year to how many fatal car accidents happened in the U.S. today. I wonder.]
Well, I should have waited. I spent the whole day yesterday worried about soloing, calling everybody to make
sure they'd be there, trying to get a video camera, etc. Then, when today finally came, I was more concerned about
putting on a show at the airport than about flying. That works with things I'm really good at, but not with aviation.
It doesn't forgive any mistakes, or any tiny fraction of a percent off your normal sharpness level. You just can't
fool the plane into listening to you. The weather was terrible in the morning, so I canceled my two afternoon appointments
and spent the whole day riding around with Jason, talking about it, getting nervous, eating, wearing myself out.
When it came time to actually fly, I was lucky I could get it off the ground. I kept thinking there was a lot of
wind or something, even though I know there wasn't any more than I'd been able to handle before. It was my attitude
and frame of mind. My maneuvers went OK, but the T/Os and landings were terrible, so the solo will have to wait.
I even messed up a lot of other pilots' days by having my clicker stick, hogging the frequency. There was nothing
I could do about it, and even Phil didn't realize it. It's not like those other pilots never had anything like
that happen to them, either, but it just seemed like anything that could have gone wrong today did. Oh well. I
learned a very valuable lesson today. The plane will control me unless I control it, totally. And I'm not a real
pilot if I'm not in control of my plane. That's all there is to it. I can do it, I should be able to do it, but
today I didn't. That's inexcusable, and I won't let it happen again.
5/13 -- Whatever I did wrong Saturday, I did the exact opposite today. Lots of sleep last night, not too much food, just show up at the airport ready to get down to business and fly. And it worked. Phil put me through the ringer with maneuvers, and I did great. He's never said "Good! Good job!" to me so many times in one lesson! I landed twice with him, and he said to just taxi him up to the FBO and get out my logbook and medical. OK. Do three times around the pattern to a full stop. Oh, OK, that's how it's done, huh? And I did it. I took off by myself for the first time on 13 May 1996, at 1420Z. The first thing I thought as the wheels left the ground was that I have to land on my own now. But I did it. The last landing was the worst, and it wasn't terrible. Just a little high, and I kind of bounced it. But the plane and I were both intact, so I guess it was good. Phil said he'd seen worse. He shook my hand and congratulated me. Everybody was all smiles for me, and I still felt like it was just another day at the airport. Maybe it'll hit later, but that's a big step out of the way. I am a pilot.
5/14 -- I was in the mood to fly again today, but the weather was a little bit rougher. It was really too bad for Phil to let me solo again, and I was a little too tired after I thought about what I had really accomplished yesterday. I wanted to put the plane through some fun stuff, though, and he let me pretty much have my way with it, sticking up and down, left and right, and jamming the rudder each way just to see what the plane would do. It did what I told it to. That's a cool feeling. Very much unlike women. After seeing how much fun I was having, and seeing that I was perfectly comfortable with stalls by now, he asked me if I wanted to do something really neat, like an accelerated stall. I have to admit I was a little bit afraid of that. I mean, isn't that the dangerous kind of stall, the kind you might not be able to get the plane out of? He put it in a 45° bank and kept pulling back until the nose broke (and my skin felt like it was peeling off my face; that was cool), then recovered the same as before. Not too big a deal, as long as you don't yank back too hard and force it to stall before it's ready. I mean, it's usually nice to leave the wings on the plane. You can generate a lot more lift that way. Anyway, I did three or four of those, and I have that to add to the list of things I did in aviation before the book says I'm ready to. Hah! Pretty uneventful landings, but the soft-field takeoff was funny-looking, with me trying to get the plane off the ground before it was ready to fly. I asked Phil if those bounces it did on the runway could be counted as touch-and-gos; he laughed and said sure, but I don't think they do. <g>
5/20 -- After almost a week, I was ready to fly again. Two times I've come down here and had to sit through book work because of weather. It wasn't real great today, but we went up anyway. Great visibility and ceiling, but the crosswinds and turbulence were kind of at maximums. I did a much better soft-field takeoff, and took it out to the practice area. During one of the power-off stalls, the engine totally cut out for a second. I swear I didn't do it on purpose. Phil started looking out the plane for a place to land, and I started thinking about maybe being late for work. We did one more, and the damn engine did it again. I turned on the electric fuel pump, and did another stall. No problem this time, so we headed back to the airport to tell them about the engine-driven pump going soft. Lots of traffic up today, so I had a lot of people to talk to. On the way into downwind, another pilot asked me for my altitude, and I said "two four thousand" without even thinking. He must have gotten as good a laugh out of it as I did when Phil corrected me. "Did I really say that?", I asked him. Of course, I had. It was good for a laugh. Good thing, because I had forgotten my oxygen this time out. Will try it again tomorrow, even though it looks like it might rain.
5/21 -- Felt good again today, even though not much sleep last night. That kind of worried me, since I now realize how little the plane cares or forgives your feeling bad in any way. But, we had a gorgeous day today, and there were a lot of guys in the pattern. Phil let me solo again, and it was pretty cool, with all of us radioing our turns to each other. I also busted my first FAR, too: I forgot and left my logbook in the car when I soloed. I guess Phil won't kill me for that, but it was pretty stupid. One of my finals was too high, and one was too low, but it didn't matter. I set the plane down really well every time, and it felt good. With the smallest amount of cross-wind I've seen in a while, it was easy to make the plane do exactly what I wanted it to, and it felt good. My soft-field takeoffs were fun too -- the feeling you have when you're just holding the nose slightly off the ground and steering the plane on two wheels, well, it's just cool. That's about all there is to say about it. One more solo around the pattern, and I'll be free to go out to the practice area and try all this stuff out myself. I cannot wait!
5/24 -- Flew again today. Phil had his GPS with him, to show me how cool it was. We had thought about going up to Mt. Comfort, since there was a pretty steady crosswind. But, once we got up to pattern altitude and couldn't see anything, we thought maybe the visibility wasn't as good as ATIS had said. So, we stayed in the pattern and did a lot of short- and soft-field takeoffs and landings. I did pretty good, with Phil telling me I was really starting to get the feel of what the plane would do for me. That was cool. I wanted to solo, but common sense (as well as the airport's rules for students) kicked in, and we took it home to do another few pages in the exercise book. I'm now getting worried about whether the money will be there for me to take this all the way through, but I'll have to do whatever I have to. Schedule doesn't let me fly as much in the next couple of weeks, so that'll help. (Help? What am I saying?) But every open day, I'll be going up. I'm already starting to ask Phil a lot of IFR-related questions. He doesn't seem too irritated, so that must be a good sign.
5/26 -- Bad weather this morning, so I couldn't fly. When do I get my third solo???
5/31 -- Today! (Patience, grasshoppa!) We went up to the practice area again, and everything went pretty smooth. Phil let me do my third solo, which now means I can go to the airport any time I want, grab the plane and practice maneuvers or touch-and-gos. No night flying yet, and lots of wind, cloud and visibility restrictions. Also, no landings at other airports for a while, but that's OK. I can now log PIC time, and that's where I should really be able to go up and figure some things out on my own. Lots of people in the pattern today, including an acro plane. I've never seen anybody leave the runway straight up like that. Pretty cool. Anyway, I don't think I caused anybody too much trouble, except for the guy who had to abort his landing because I wasn't off the runway yet. Heck, if he'd announced his turns to base and final, I might have known he was there, and taxied a little faster on roll-out to get out of his way. But, he didn't. As Phil says, screw him and fly THIS airplane -- He'll stay out of your way.
I went to the eye doctor today per a request from the FAA. They want to make sure I can see before they give me that Class 2 medical. Of course, I walked out with a new pair of glasses, and found out my current sunglasses are a little too strong. Real WWII aviators are on my list, but flight time is much more important right now...
Phil has me playing with the VOR, and today he gave me a taste of what it was like to shoot a VOR approach. Someday very soon, I'll be doing those with no problem. Next time, we're going to go into IND. I'm sure it'll be old hat very soon, but for now it's like everything else has been and always will be in aviation -- scary at first. Can't wait to try everything, on my own, over and over and over and...
6/2 -- Pretty heartbreaking day. I have very little time in the next couple of weeks, because of a too-full schedule. I need all the flying time I can get, so I can get the solo time I need. That means I need the weather to cooperate in a big way. So what kind of day was it? I got up at 6:00 to make the only airport time I could (very early, because I'm busy the whole rest of the day). Of course, we had a 500 ft. ceiling when I got there. As I was leaving, the clouds started breaking up, and the day became one of the most beautiful we've seen in a long time. Mad doesn't really describe the way I felt, but that's aviation. It does to you what it wants, and dares you to be good enough to accept the challenge. I'll have to find time to do what I need to, and that's the way it is. It'll be a few days now, but I'm going about the right rate given the way I have to do it.
6/4 -- Almost killed myself today. I went to the airport to do a few touch-and-gos, and the wind was a little on the gusty side. Took off OK, and did a few maneuvers by myself. Coming back to the pattern, though, the wind was a little bit over what Phil had signed me off for, and it took me four tries to get the plane down. The first time I turned final, the wind really had me so far off the centerline, there was no way. So, I went around to try again. The second time, I was too high, and slipping down, my airspeed got way up there. It didn't feel good, so what do they say? Go around. The third time, I did a really good final, but at the last second, a gust caught me and turned me sideways. So, my mains touched (bounced, skidded, whatever you want to call it) with the plane heading about 45° off the centerline. Oops. Of course, the plane was heading right off the runway, toward a light, into the grass. I didn't really even have time to think, but I did what I was supposed to do -- full throttle and yank it back up into the air. Level off to gain airspeed, let out the flaps and climb. Then, get real scared. (It's always best if that's the last item on your emergency checklist). Phil asked me on the radio if I was having problems, and I was proud to be able to answer him in a very calm voice that, yes, indeed, I was having a little trouble. Oh, the wind's now favoring 19? Uh huh, I just found that out, thanks. Do I want to go to Mt. Comfort, where I can land into the wind? I can land this plane -- I'm not shaken, or tired, or anything. (After all, I had just performed an absolutely perfect crash-and-go!) So, I went all the way around and did a pretty good crosswind landing on 19. Third time wasn't the charm, I guess. Anyway, I'm sure he was pretty upset with me, and I was kind of amazed I was still alive. But, I had done pretty well in my first bad situation (a pucker factor of about 6.5, I think). And, I'm ready to try some more landings next time. Just make sure to land on the runway the long way.
6/8 -- A great flying day today. Jason woke me up really early like he sometimes does, and I headed to the airport to see if I could get the plane before my lesson. Sure thing. So, I took it up for a few touch-and-gos. All went fine. I thought about leaving the pattern, and started to, but there were lots of scud clouds at around 2000', so I went back. A helicopter overflying the airport had to have heard me radio that I had him in sight, but he didn't answer. Oh well. A nice landing (a tailwind landing, I found out later, since the FBO wasn't answering their radio for advisories) ended the fun.
Then, Phil showed up. He seemed pleased I had taken some initiative in going up already. He was thinking about going into IND, but once we got up, fog and low ceiling kind of dampened that idea for today. So, hood time it was. My first simulated instrument experience! He even had me take off under the hood (foggles actually), and told me my takeoffs were better when I couldn't see. I trust those instruments, and all that Flight Sim time cannot possibly have been wasted. I stayed under almost the whole time; I did a couple of stalls, four unusual attitude recoveries, a simulated engine-out, and simulated radar vectors all the way to final. When I broke out at 400' AGL, I was a little off course, but I got it down fine. One more time around the pattern STOL, and that was it for the day. I logged 1.7 hours, with PIC and simulated IFR time today! It was just the coolest. And Phil told me I did a good job under the hood, and that I'd make a good instrument pilot someday. What he meant to say was by Labor Day! Put it in your calendar. In ink.
6/9 -- Really mad today. Why does it seem like the only days I have free to fly we have bad weather? I went to the airport and watched Phil with another student (I can't wait 'til that's me!) and told him when he came down that it looked "marginal, pointing towards 'no'." He said, "Good call, grasshoppa." Part of being a good pilot is knowing when you're not as good as you'd like to think you are.
6/14 -- Looks like a beautiful weekend. Three days off in a row, and I'm at the airport for all of them! Today could not have been nicer; spent two hours with Phil learning cross-country planning, then took the plane up for 1.2 hours of turns and VORs and anything else I could think of. Did my first solo stalls today (and did them well, if I do say so), and came close to hitting a bird. Well, they didn't get out of my way. I guess at 3000 feet, they think they own whatever's up there. It's nice to know there's something I could actually hit and still live. Still, in the Tomahawk, I would have to hope it was a small bird.... It thunderstormed later, so for once, I beat the weather! Now, later in the evening, it's perfect outside again. If I had my license, I'd probably be thinking about going up again. But tomorrow should be great, so I'll have to go back down and practice slow flight again. My two crosswind landings were perfect today, so I must be getting better.
6/15 -- A pretty good day today, though some disappointments. I was going to fly for an hour at 1:00, but as I was taxiing to the runway, I saw that I had no fuel pressure when I turned the electric fuel pump off (at any throttle setting). I taxied back to the FBO. Phil asked me what I was doing, and didn't seem too concerned about the situation. It was pretty hot today, and he said the gauge can give an inaccurate reading because of the tendency of the fuel to vaporize. Sounds good to me, but I didn't know. (Of course, he got the gauge up by doing a one-minute run-up at 2300 RPM.) He probably got a little bit irritated at my over-cautiousness (though he didn't show it), but I feel like I did the right thing. There's no sense flying, no matter how much you want to, if you feel something's not right. Sometime, someday, that pressure to fly might be coming from a passenger, and if you give in, you give up your responsibility of being in command of your plane. People have died from that.
Then, when I came back around 4:00, we were all set to do some hood time and (gulp) go into Indy for the first time. I know how stupid I'm going to sound, but you gotta be stupid before you can be smart. None of us is born knowing anything except how to suck, and that's probably what I'll do. Anyway, I was all hyped up about that, and was sitting in the plane practically ready to turn the key, when Phil saw the hole in the tire. A quarter-sized piece of the tread was gone, all the way down to the cords. He said we couldn't go in that, and that sounded good to me. We looked at it and played with it, and he thought for a long time. Finally, he said he thought we'd probably be OK. I really don't know if he was serious or not, but I wasn't about to try doing one of my patented slam-it-down landings on that tire. I told him that if it were me all by myself, I wouldn't go, and his reaction told me (even if his words didn't) that he had been testing my ability to make a PIC decision in the face of an authority figure's questionable call. The plane got wheeled in, and I watched how a plane's tire is changed.
Then, the guy who had the other Tomahawk brought it back early, so I had a plane to fly. Of course, I took advantage. Pretty uneventful -- I got to 4000', did a bunch of stalls, had no problem getting it to MCA, did a bunch of touch-and-gos (the worst of which wasn't all that bad, either), and just generally had a good time on a perfect day. Lots of traffic in the pattern, so we irritated the guys at Metro (who feel that 123.0 belongs to them and them alone, judging by the things they were saying). Tomorrow will be the big Class C day. I'm nervous, but it'll be old hat soon enough. Being nervous is kind of exciting, anyway. I'm three days away from my dual cross-country, and the weather prospects are looking great! Not too many more steps to go, just get the hours and hone the skills. My private license is in sight, but I know that's just one of the steps I've got to go through. Let's hope the weather and my checkbook hold for all the stuff I want to do.
6/16 -- Didn't do the stuff I'd hoped today. Being Father's Day, Phil had some stuff to do with his father-in-law, so we couldn't fly at all. He agreed to write me off for Shelbyville, though, so I went there instead. Of course, on the way, I flew over Washington Square, Dad's house, Geist, Mt. Comfort, just all kinds of places. I kind of tried to get myself lost, but it didn't work. I did take advantage of stopping at Shelbyville to get a coke! One thing I did was fun, though -- on the way back to Greenwood, I did a couple of stalls, and forgot to take the back trim out for the first one. I got a real good lesson on why you don't want an aft CG in a stall. It does the same thing I experienced, which is not to come out the stall very well. The airspeed got really high, the engine kind of cut out, and the plane really floated for a long time. I think I lost about 500' trying to get it back. Those are probably things I shouldn't be doing in a Tomahawk, but I'll remember from now on to check my trim before doing stalls. Tuesday is when we're thinking about doing our cross-country, and they're starting to forecast questionable weather. Hope it holds.
6/18 -- It didn't. No ceiling at all today, so we have to reschedule. This really pushes me back, because my schedule is so full the next couple of weeks, but we'll get it in when we can. Phil says my night flying will also be cross-countries, so that'll be good too. Try again in a few days.
6/21 -- Finally had good weather today, and I took advantage of it. It was so cool to just go to the airport, hey how ya doin, grab the book, make sure the plane still has wings on it, and just take it up for a spin (almost literally) around the county. I went to Shelbyville again just to land on a real small runway, did some approaches too high, some too low, some spiral downs to the pattern, and all kinds of landings. I'm really getting the feel of the plane, and I can't wait until it's a real airplane I'm flying. If the weather holds, Tuesday will be my next cross-country attempt, and then I'm almost there. I'm really into studying the Instrument and Instructor books now, and the stuff is getting easier and easier. I'm even getting better at Flight Sim, whenever I find time to do it. The real thing's so much better it's not even believable, but it's still fun.
6/23 -- Well, I flew today, but I'm not very excited about it. Phil had somebody up before me, and they were running way late, so I took the plane up for as many landings as I could get in. I did eleven, and I didn't like any of them. It was so hot the plane would hardly take off, and I only got 5 hours of sleep last night, so some of the landings were pretty interesting. Then, when Phil got back, we went up. Just about everything I did was wrong. He did give me some hood time, and we went to IND, but he thinks I've gotten into some really bad habits on my landings. He's probably right. I told him about my stall experiences, and he's going to want to do a bunch of them to make sure I'm not out there trying to rip the wings off. We're going to shoot for cross-country again in two days, and go back over all this stuff, so I'm sure I'll be OK, but today was not one of my better days. Oh well.
6/25 -- Today was cross-country day. Phil had me meet him at his work (Raytheon) last night late, and we did the planning we could. This morning, it looked great, but the ceiling dropped really fast. He didn't really want to go, but I'm glad we did, because we won't be able to fly again together for a week or so. I did really well, never got lost, and I told him I'm ready to be signed off for my solo cross-countries. I hope he does that soon, so I can get moving. My license is going to end up costing a lot more than I'd hoped because of my bad habit of learning everything the second time he shows me instead of the first. I did some dumb things, too, like leaving the pattern on a right-hand turn. He really didn't appreciate that. Also, my midfield crosswind when we got back to Green-wood was more of a carrier landing swoop onto the numbers. My landings are real hard, too, like I'm not flaring nearly enough. He says my check pilot won't like that, and it could be a dangerous way to land someday when I have a stiff wind. We bucked a headwind all the way back home today, and the whole trip was well over 3 hours. Also, it was over $300. I knew to plan for it, but ouch! Oh well, everybody has to do it, and I've had some great days at work lately to pay for it. We will have to review my landings a little bit before he's ready to sign me off on my own cross-countries, but I think he'll do that pretty soon. He knows I won't get lost, and most likely won't kill myself, but I need to get out of these bad habits. Just a few more hours to go: some night, a little more hood, lots of cross-countries, and a checkride. Oh yes, the written test, too. That'll be a snap. Note: Meredith at Southern Jet in Lexington is cool. Have to go there again sometime real soon!
6/28 -- Went in today to take my practice written test. It was pretty easy, and I only know of one question that I think I missed. I won't be able to ask Phil until Sunday night, though, because he's gone for the weekend. Bummer. There was a little time left afterward, so I took up 23140 to practice doing some landings. First two were OK, but the third was terrible. I went around again and ended on a good one so I'd feel good about them. I swear, I've landed that thing over 100 times, and no two landings have been the same. It's really weird. Hopefully, we'll be able to go up again Sunday so I can show Phil. Until then, it's pretty much mark time. I'm ready for my solo cross-countries and night flying. Then, the real written and my checkride! It's that close.
7/2 -- Kind of a mixed-up day. First of all, I only got about 5 hours of sleep last night. It's so normal to do that and then not feel too much different the next day, but an airplane doesn't let you forget just how sharp you have to be in order to do it right. I'd like to think that's all it was that makes me feel like I've really forgotten how to fly. My stalls aren't clean and smooth like they should be, and my landings are bad to the point where Phil's going to have to take me back to the beginning and talk me through them like he did at first. I'll get it back easily, I know, but that doesn't help right now when I'm feeling like the plane is totally in control of me (instead of how it should be). I felt pretty bad leaving the airport, but since I did so well on my practice written test (93%), Phil signed me off on it. Just so today wasn't a total loss, I had to go take it today, just for my own confidence boost or whatever that is. So I did. It took me just under an hour and a half, and guess what? A 93%! I'm pretty mad, though; I should have aced it. Oh well, that's out of the way now, and I'm ready to learn how to land again. Today wasn't a total loss, at least.
7/5 -- Phil gave me my supplemental instruction on the few questions I missed on the test, and we flew in some perfect weather today. I'm tensing up way too much (he must have said "easy" a hundred times to me!), I'm being too impulsive, I'm not relaxing and flying the plane like I should. I won't kill myself or anything, but I'm not doing the stuff the way I'm capable of. Jason is telling me all about what it'll be like to fly the Stearman, and how I'll have to learn to fly all over again once I'm in a real plane. He's right, though -- that Tomahawk is starting to scare me to death. You're always afraid you'll push it just a little too hard, and that'll be it. Phil did tell me I was ready for my solo cross-countries, though, so in a couple of days when I have off work, I'll go to Richmond and Kokomo two days in a row. My night training will be a dual cross-country with him two weeks from tomorrow. By then, I'll be broke, but I'll be about as close to my checkride as a person can be. That'll be cool. I'll go up again in two days to make sure I'm back on track with this landing thing.
7/7 -- Last night, Jason and I sat and talked for two hours about flying, and he gave me some tips on things I can try when I'm landing. They came in handy today, because I really feel like the things he told me saved my life. I was scheduled for the plane at 7:00, and I showed up a little early. There were some storms moving in, but when I got there, the weather was still nice. What little wind there was a crosswind, but it was almost nothing. It was variable, though, with guys using both runways. I took off on 01 along with everybody else, and did two patterns with almost perfect crosswind landings. Then, I thought about quitting, but went up again for "one more" without checking the wind. As I climbed out, a Cessna radioed ten miles out, so I figured I wouldn't have any problems with him. When I turned to downwind, though, I saw the cloud. A big fat thunderstorm about 7 miles southwest, moving in fast. OK, I better get down NOW. Then, the Cessna radioed that he had me in sight, and was right behind me. And to top it off, with the change in wind, I was getting blown around like crazy. I started to get a little nervous, but no big deal. But I couldn't crab enough to correct for the wind, and I was getting blown right over the top of the runway. My turn to base looked like a turn intended to depart the pattern, so I called a go-around, and let the other guy go in behind me. I got way east and started to turn back for a midfield cross (which I radioed), to see the Cessna go around. He told unicom he thought I was going to be landing, and he hadn't seen me. I called again where I was and what I was doing, and got no answer. So here I am, coming on downwind again with him right behind me, and the wind picking up even more! I got on the radio and asked if anyone was hearing me. He finally answered, and I told him I was extending my downwind to let him go in first. No problem. So, I turned about a three mile final, and had a hell of a time getting lined up with all the wind. The lower I got, the weirder it got. I was trying to keep 85 knots, but started getting blown all over the place, just about out of control. At about 50 feet off the ground, I was as out of control as I ever want to be in an airplane, and my airspeed was swinging back and forth between 65 and 100 like a seismograph. I really thought I was dead, and, looking back, I'd be dead if I hadn't been keeping all that airspeed. Thanks, Jason. Anyway, I saw from the windsock that we now had about a 20-knot crosswind, with a thunderstorm moving in, and me all flustered from my Cessna encounter. I was going to Mt. Comfort to outrun the storm and land into the wind, but when I turned, all the turbulence went away. The wind was coming from the southwest at that point, so I did a very illegal 180 and landed on 19 without too much trouble.
On that climbout, though, I was absolutely panicking. It's hard to describe if you've never felt it, but logic doesn't work. You think about so much that you can't think of anything. You know you're going to die, you can't land the plane, why did you ever get in one in the first place, etc. I had to tell myself "easy, easy, easy..." at least ten times before I stopped shaking. But I made it. I didn't stop shaking inside for about two hours, but I used that time to call Jason, take him for a pizza and talk about it. He told me about all the students that will benefit from what I learned today, and about how much better a pilot I'll be, and similar things that have happened to him that he doesn't usually talk about to other people. Still, his advice on keeping airspeed on final saved my life. Tomorrow is the first of two consecutive cross-country days, and I'll wake up tomorrow very ready to do that. The storm was absolutely violent and brutal, I made it in just before it hit, and I know there has to be a nice, stable air mass behind it. Don't fly too close to the sun. Your wings might melt.
7/8 -- Well, after the fiasco yesterday, my first solo cross-country (to Richmond) went pretty well. Phil was worried, I could tell, but he didn't have to be. I guess I was secretly glad he picked an easy airport for me, but it would've been a lot better if they would've answered their radio when I tried to get an advisory. I picked a runway, and did a three-point landing in the crosswind (boo!). My return landing was a lot better, and so I guess the whole thing was successful. I got there and back in just slightly less time than it would've taken to drive, but at 5500' it's amazing how well you can see to get around. My course was good, weather was great except for some turbulence, and Richmond airport looked like O'Hare from 15 miles out! Impossible to miss. I think it was meant that way. Harry met me for lunch afterwards, and I'm all ready to take some money out of savings to get tomorrow's trip to Kokomo out of the way. A couple more of these and I'll be ready for my long cross-country.
7/9 -- Very nice day today, though it started early. I did my second cross-country to Kokomo, and it went pretty well. Some CAT moved in on the way back, and the ride was bumpy, but my communications with Indy were good. I completely forgot to open the flight plan I'd filed, and Phil got on me for that. But, I've only got one more of those to do as soon as the money's there. Two good crosswind landings. I'll try to get up again in the next week or so; looks like my birthday (8/11) was a pretty accurate goal after all.
7/12 -- Good day today -- beautiful, clear air. We did a lot of hood time, where he gave me partial panel (turn, tach, and compass) and gave me a simulated no-gyro approach to Mt. Comfort. Stalls under the hood, and an introduction to lazy eights and chandelles (not under the hood!) capped off the trip. When I took off the glasses for my landing, though, he told me to expect some depth perception problems. I thought I flared perfectly, but bounced it in pretty hard. Oh well, at least I'm flaring like I'm supposed to. It would just be nice to do it at 5 feet instead of 30 feet. Hurricane Bertha is pounding the NC coast today, and my long solo cross-country is in four days. I hope all the weather the hurricane spawns will stay out of my way, but I may have to prepare to reschedule. We'll see as the day gets closer. I'm over 40 hours now, with no license. I knew that would happen months ago, but I feel like I'm getting a lot better, and there's not much left after today's IFR sim.
7/16 -- Real snafu today. I've been pretty excited for a whole week about my long cross-country today, and when I got to the airport, I found out Phil had written me down for tomorrow! Of course, I never looked at the book to check the date, the planes were all taken up for today, and I work tomorrow. I'm down for Friday, but it's supposed to rain then. More delays. I want to take my checkride NOW, and these things just keep pushing me back. We'll try it again on Friday.
7/20 -- Weather kept me down on Friday, so I haven't done the long flight yet. But, we went tonight for some night stuff. Of course, we couldn't put much fuel on the plane because of weight, so we were limited by the stuff we could do. I still got most of my night flying done, and all that's left is some more landings and (gulp) stalls and other maneuvers at night. We went to Muncie, and ate at Vince's. Phil told me what being an instructor was like, asked me a lot about computers, and told me that the FSS guy who was mad (because I told him the frequency I was listening on) was a jerk. He really has warmed up to me a lot, and, even though my night landings weren't great, he's treating me more and more as a pilot lately. That's cool, because it's really giving me the confidence I know I'm going to need when I take my checkride. Five more times up, and I think I'll be ready to be signed off for it. Looks like my birthday is the goal date I'll be shooting for. I'm signed up for the plane two days next week, and weather looks like it might hold. Let's hope. Try to remember not to leave the key in the ignition with the mags on when I go up with my check pilot!
7/23 -- Weather kept me down today -- again. All day yesterday, and even this morning, they were forecasting clear skies. But, the temp. was way down and the humidity was way up, so...300' ceilings. I finally left the airport at 10:00. Guess I'll try again tomorrow. I'm starting to wonder if I'm meant to ever get my license. I did get my 2nd class medical in the mail today, as if I'll ever get a chance to actually use it.
7/24 -- Unbelievable. The last two days, I've spent four hours in the morning at the airport, waiting for the weather to clear. This morning was no different, except that I thought I was going to get to go right up until the last minute. Thunderstorms popping up all over the place, and a line of heavy stuff right across the route I needed to get home kept me down again. I'm getting close to a record for most unsuccessful attempts at my solo cross-country, and no more days off for another week. I'm in a bad mood, getting real cynical about the whole thing, and starting to wonder if I was ever meant to get my pilot's license. Plus, after tonight's Kokomo Park Band concert, I had a tooth break right off. It looks pretty bad, but this is how much I want to do my flight: I'm thinking of calling into work tomorrow, ostensibly to go get my tooth fixed, but really to go fly if I have weather. Seriously, the way things have been going, I can get a tooth fixed any time; I see now that I can't always go for a flight just because I'm ready. No schedules in general aviation. We'll see how attempt #5 goes, and whether my tooth is worse than my desire to get to my checkride someday.
7/25 -- After yesterday, today had to be better. I got my dentist app. for 1:00, and when I got there, Dr. Holloway said I needed to have a root canal on my tooth, that it was dead. Over lunch, I had planned a cross-country to Terre Haute, and, after my root canal and some coaching from Phil, I did the flight. I was still feeling the Novocain almost until I got back to Greenwood! Not many pilots can say they've done what I did today!
However, I think I paid for it in several ways. First of all, I haven't flown solo for 16 days. Then, I was down somewhat because of the stress of the dentist. And, to top it off, we had a pretty much 90° crosswind at Greenwood, with winds at 12 gusting to 20. That's a lot on a good day for me, but in my condition, it was a little much. I probably could have been accused of exceeding my personal limits, but I was so anxious to fly, I went in spite of my nervousness. And I think that's getting me into trouble -- I noticed the same nervousness in flight that I felt on my first trip to Richmond. It was very turbulent today, and I got really nervous both times I was going in on final. I don't know how to describe what I'm doing, but it's probably best to say I'm psyching myself out of knowing that I have the ability to get the plane down. I'm thinking too much and feeling too little. I don't feel like I'm in the kind of control of the plane that I absolutely have to be. I'm coming in too hot, not throttling back enough, not flaring enough, etc. I'm reverting to the same old stuff I did a month or so back, and as much as I'd like to write it off to not flying for a while, it comes down to I'm not as good a pilot yet as I want to be, and I'm going to have to discipline myself to stick to my personal limits. I'm also going to try some imagery of what my great landings have felt like, and try to hear Phil's voice in my head all the way down on final. My entry into the pattern is going to have to be more precise, more exact, more in control of what I want the airplane to be doing at each moment. That's the only way I'm going to get that confidence back that I need. I can do it all -- takeoffs, navigation, bookwork, communications (although I keep calling Approach "Tower"!), maneuvers, it's just that I've let myself fall into a trap of letting landings scare me. And that sets me up to fail, or at least not to do as good as I'd like (I won't be around to talk about the first failed landing I do). Total concentration, total preparedness, total planning of what I'm going to do, and then confidence that I can do it. I'm flying the plane, and if I can do it well at 3000', then I can certainly do it at 3'. That's what it takes. I'm taking tomorrow off work again (my tooth, you understand), and will try to get the long cross-country in. It looks like good weather, and I'm going to get my head screwed back on straight and nail these landings.
7/26 -- Well, after my root canal, I probably would've called into work anyway, but with the great weather we had today, I had to try to go flying. When I was ready, I told Phil about my problems with landings, and we went up together for some crosswind landing practice. True to form, I couldn't even land the plane the first couple of tries. Either I was worn out a little, I was out of practice, or I was fighting the plane, but I could not do what I know how to do. Phil said I was steering the plane, letting it fly me, and he had me completely release the controls and watch the plane fly itself through all the turbulence. It did. Then, we went out to the practice area for stall after stall after stall. We must've done 20 of them, and it kind of whipped me back into shape for feeling myself as part of the plane. He asked me jokingly whether I'd ever fly a Tomahawk again after I had my license, and I was honest with him. They scare the hell out of me. By the way, after all that practice, I did a very nice crosswind landing; even though the wind was exactly the same as it had been, it seemed like a totally calm day. The difference was my attitude.
He gave me the option of whether I wanted to go on the long trip, but I needed to get my paycheck at work, I had thrown my back out pretty badly doing all those stalls, I was exhausted, and I still didn't really believe my head was screwed on straight enough to sit in that plane for five hours. Phil said I was making up reasons not to go, and what did that tell me about what I should do? I sat in the car for 15 minutes, thinking about all the times I wanted more than anything to go, and now I was giving up a golden opportunity. After I got home, I even called him back to ask if I could still go. Of course, by then that would've put me back after dark, so I couldn't do it. We'll fly Monday night, and the plane is down for annual on Tuesday (T-storms forecast anyway), so I'll do take six on this long one in a week. I still feel terrible from that root canal, though, so maybe it's just as well.
7/29 -- Well, it was a pretty good day. Thunderstorms forecast all day, and a pretty good one moved through while I was at work. Phil paged me to call off tonight, and he's busy with night flights for a while. I knew I had to get it in, and the weather cleared up perfectly for me. So, I called him and talked him into going up with me. When I got to the airport at 8:00, the sky was beautiful, and I was ready. The plane was fine, except for the landing light. It didn't work, so we did all our stuff without it (remember to buy a big flashlight). We went to Shelbyville, and I did lots of landings. Then, Phil told me to go to Mt. Comfort, and shut off my lights and my engine. I made it in with no problem. A couple of times I was too low on final, even scaring Phil once when he started seeing trees in front of the VASI, and I tended to flare too late almost every time (depth perception "degrades" somewhat at night), but overall it was great. We got all my time and all my landings in! We were really going to go into Mt. Comfort then, but the clouds started rolling in, and it was very prudent that we got back to Greenwood ASAP. No stalls for me this night! But, I could have done them; with no ground distractions, and only the runway lights like what I'm used to on Flight Sim, Phil told me (and he was right) that I fly better at night than in the daytime. My problems with daytime are just me psyching myself out and trying too hard, though. I know how to do this, I can do it, and I'm going to get my license. The weather needs to hold for me on Friday so I can get that cross-country in, then it's on to my checkride as soon as Phil feels I'm ready. The U.S. won a lot of Gold medals at the Olympics today (Carl Lewis' fourth, etc.), so, yeah, it was a pretty good day.
8/2 -- Where do I start? Today, on my sixth attempt, I finally did my long solo cross-country! As planned, I went from Greenwood to Evansville to Champaign (IL) and back. My flight planning was perfect; all my fixes and times were right on, and I now have exactly ten hours of solo cross-country (exactly what the FAA requires). The trip was amazing. Harry took me to breakfast, then to drop my car off for a tune-up while I was up. My planning was perfect, my landings were very good, and my back was sore (not to mention my checkbook), but I did it. On the way to EVV, I heard a guy radio Crawfordsville that he'd be needing gas, but he couldn't get out of the plane because he was wheelchair-bound. Hmm. All my calls to ATC were good; I never tell them I'm a student pilot, so I can get the feel of what it's really like. Before I left, Phil checked out my plans, found that they were good, and shook my hand. He worries a lot, and probably won't have a good day until I'm down safely. That's a good instructor for you, not quite on the verge of trusting that he's covered everything you might need to know, just in case...
Leaving Evansville, there was a big rainstorm right in my flight path. I had gotten a little wet coming in, and I could see this was a big one. I heard them talking about it on the radio, so I called up to ask for vectors around it. Of course, they obliged, but that put me about 20 miles west of my course. I did a quick re-plot and followed it, but then later found I had stayed on that intercept course too long. I thought I was about 30 miles east of where I was supposed to be, but then a town below me (with the airport, roads, and RR tracks in exactly the right places) told me I had in fact intercepted the course, and I was right on schedule! Quite a few times, I hit turbulence and had to slow down (I like the wings on the plane, where they belong), but I made up for it by picking up speed when the air was clean. There was a lot of haze, and only a 3500' ceiling, but I could see well enough to keep a lookout for landing spots in case the engine quit.
Of course, I did mess one thing up. When I left EVV, I stayed with Departure too long without asking to switch frequencies to file my flight plan. By the time they cut me loose, I couldn't pick up FSS in Evansville, so for the next half hour I tried talking to them over three different VORs. Nothing worked, so I gave up. I knew Phil would know, and that he'd be mad, but I didn't realize how efficient he'd be. Almost as soon as I walked into the FBO at Champaign, he called me. I explained it all, and he didn't yell. I think he believed that it was an honest mistake. I wasn't making up my own rules. Honest. I did another no-no, too: Leaving CMI, I requested the frequency change to file my flight plan. I waited, and thought I heard him give me permission, and switched. As I was coming back to the Champaign departure frequency, he was in the middle of announcing that I now had clearance to switch. I acknowledged, did a phantom switch for about 30 seconds, and no one was the wiser. I got away with it this time, but maybe it's better I learned to play by the rules before I start breaking them.
On the way into Indy, I flew right over North Putnam (the school I used to teach at). I thought about low-leveling them, but there's this big tower about 100' north of the school, and plus, I'd actually like to get my license before the FAA takes it away. So, I called Indy Approach over Danville, expecting to be taken around to the south. Instead, they took me up to 4000' and headed me north past Brownsburg to God knows where. Then south, right over the runway at Int'l. (Speedway Airport is cool-looking from up there), and on to Greenwood. I told them I had the airport in sight when all I could really see was the tower south of our runway, so I'd have a chance at getting down in time to land. They cut me loose, and I cut the throttle and dived to pattern altitude in nothing flat. The landing was good, and it was over. I felt better than I did after I soloed; I really did what real pilots do, all by myself. And I did it well. That's cool. All that's left now is a little instrument time, and three hours of Phil playing checkpilot, and I'm there. The checkride is scheduled for the 16th, and if I have weather between then and now, that's when it'll happen. I really thought I could have this done by my birthday, but we'll take it. Four and a half months from first flight to license isn't a record by any stretch (and not that much to brag about, as far as I'm concerned), but it's not bad. I was really a pilot today. Now if we can only get the FAA to agree...
8/6 -- Well, the weather was very hot and hazy this morning, and I wanted to go out to do some practice at altitude. But, as I got up to pattern altitude, I decided I couldn't see well enough, and just stayed in pattern to do three takeoffs and landings. I did them well, but of course Phil saw me do the last one, and told me I was still not getting my nose up enough. I was doing short-fields, and wanted to land right on the numbers. They felt good, though, and I'm gearing up for my checkride next Friday (10 days away!). I'll fly on Sunday (my 33rd birthday), then checkride practice w/Phil next Tuesday and Wednesday, then...gulp...it'll be time to see the FAA. Dad came through with some money (a great deal, actually) to help me toward my instrument license, and that'll be what gets me there. He has no idea how cool it was of him to do that for me; I'll have to take him flying sometime to show him. Maybe he'll pay for my Citation type rating. Probably not. Oh well, I guess going up in a Mustang with Jason will have to do!
8/11 -- My 33rd birthday, and the day I had wanted to take my checkride. Good thing I didn't because there was much more of a crosswind and turbulence than I'd like for that day! It was kind of a drab day, compared to the beautiful ones we've been having. There was about a 6000' layer of stratus, and light and variable surface winds. But a hundred feet or so off the ground, it was pretty bumpy. I stayed in the pattern, didn't practice any of the maneuvers I had wanted to use today for (in other words, I wimped out), and just did two really good crosswind landings. Of course, I came in too hot, as I've gotten in the habit of doing, and floated down the runway a bit. But I'm pulling out of the crab well, and getting my nose up really nice. (Got perfect stall warnings both times!) And of course, I scheduled too much stuff today to have more time to let the weather change for the better (by tonight everything was gorgeous). A playing job in New Castle and dinner with mom at Don Pablo's rounded everything out, and it's back to work tomorrow. I'm reading lots of stuff in preparation for my checkride; Jason told me to be careful not to overprepare and psych myself out. I'll try, but it's getting very exciting. I'm only five days away from being a pilot!! I never dreamed this day would happen, but it's going to be just another day at the office. What do I tell my kids about math tests? They're just an opportunity to show off how much you know. Your success is directly proportional to how much you've practiced. Keep airspeed on final, be cool under fire from questions, and kick the correct rudder in stalls! That's about all it'll take, and I'll be a pilot. That's something they'll never be able to take away from me, and it's starting to mean more to me than anything else. When do I get to fly again?
8/13 -- Today was the day to fly, and I went to the airport expecting to start my checkride prep. We sat down, though, and Phil started doing the oral stuff with me. I did OK, learned a couple of new things, and asked him why we hadn't used the good day to fly. (After all, if it rains now any of the next three days, I have a chance at getting this thing delayed!) He wanted to do things in order, so that's what we did. The weather does look good, though, so I should be OK. Three days to go...
8/14 -- We met at 7:00 this morning, before I had to go to work. We did a bunch of cool stuff, like stalls under the hood (where I got sideways once by accident; that was fun), a preview of what a VOR approach feels like, and the lowest short-field landing I ever saw. It turns out, of course, that's the way you're supposed to do them; as always, I'm too cautious when I don't need to be. Then, later in the day, the wind picked way up in advance of this cold front that's moving in, so I'm glad we got it out of the way. It'll be tight to get the rest of it in tomorrow, but Phil says we can do it. Two days to go...
8/15 -- Did more checkride prep today. I did pretty well, I think. Phil had me do a VOR approach under the hood down to about 50' at Shelbyville, then a forced landing down to a farmer's field (to about 100'), and the typical stalls, turns around a point, and MCA. My short-field landing was better than yesterday (keep your nose up!), and we actually landed and took off from the grass runway (27) at Shelbyville! It was very cool, the way true flying should be. Phil is normally very reserved, but when we took off, barely cleared the trees, the interstate, and the power lines, it was neat to hear him going "woo-hoo!" the way Jason does. I know how they feel.
Everybody at work promised to stay out of the skies after tomorrow, but they were honestly very supportive. I think they're just jealous, because they know what I'm about to accomplish. Unless I totally screw up tomorrow, I will be pronounced a pilot in Bedford, Indiana at around 2:30! Then, it's on to Terry to see Jason, drive to Terry to get checked out in the Katana, out with Jason, and get drunk. Chuck from work called me on my voicemail to wish me luck; that was cool. I'm going to take him to Hagerstown (where he lives) Sunday before work. He flies helicopters for the Guard, so he knows what it's like, too. I can't believe it's finally here -- after four and a half months, after all the stuff I've done, all the money, all the prep, all the thinking about it, all the time I've looked at an airplane and wondered, the FAA is about ready to give me a license to start learning to fly. Oh, I forgot -- I already know how. And it feels great! Woo-hoo! This is my last entry as a gravity-bound, nothing, putz; tomorrow, I may just decide to log five hours, and my first true PIC time. It's all coming to an end, but really, it's just a beginning. After all, there's always more to learn, and my instrument is just around the corner. The weather forecast could not look better. Tomorrow...
8/16 -- Where do I start? Oh, I guess I should start by saying that I am now a pilot. Not that I deserved it, but the FAA guy seemed to think so. His name was Mike Earlywine; when I first saw him, I thought he was at least eight feet tall, but he turned out to be the nicest guy you could ever hope to have for a checkpilot. Nice, outgoing, gentle, thorough, but supportive in every way. I mean, I screwed up so many things that there's no way I should have passed. But, he seemed to think so, so I now have my pilot's license. It hasn't really sunk in yet, because I'm absolutely exhausted. Three and a half hours of flying will do that to you.
There are so many things I could say. The runway I landed on was narrow, short, and had trees right up to the threshold. I got disoriented, so I announced a midfield cross when I was entering on base. Lots of turbulence, so my patterns sucked. My stalls were terrible, but it wasn't really my fault. Phil had let me hold the nose back way too long (actually, he had told me, but I never really got the feel for the forward pressure I needed), so my first stall was the typical roller-coaster ride I'm used to. I didn't think anything about it, but Mike started to go for the controls. I told him that it wasn't anything unusual, and he actually gave me a lesson, and showed me what they were supposed to be. I couldn't believe it; it felt like just a little bit of nose-over and some light turbulence. So I did three or four of them, and he was satisfied. I had shown my ignorance of fire emergency procedures, so we did a couple of the descents you have to use, and, yeah, I'd done it before. So those were two things that I thought for sure would disqualify me, but they didn't. Maybe I showed such an ability to be trainable, he figured I was OK. My landings were good, knowledge was good, cross-country plan was excellent. All good, and he even said after we were done that, more than just being happy to welcome me into the aviation community, he had enjoyed our time together. So I gave him a business card, just in case he ever needs a computer.
My maneuvers were good, too. He saw that I was a "natural" under the hood, so we didn't do much of that. We spent five minutes on my cross-country, after I nailed my first two checkpoints. He told me I didn't need to call for weather before we went up, but I said I thought I would anyway. Brownie points. He seemed very impressed by how hard on myself I was for daring not to know everything there was to know about aviation. Heck, he's an ATP, and he was sitting there telling me how he's not perfect, that nobody is, and that I had a great attitude and respect toward aviation, and that he truly thought I had the potential to be a great pilot (he said that twice). He offered to let me call him any time I wanted some instrument time, or just if I had a question. That's cool. But the coolest thing was, on my landing, while I was still on rollout, when he stuck his hand out and said, "I'd like to be the first to congratulate our newest pilot". I couldn't believe it, because I was sure I'd done ten disqualifying things. "No, you'd be amazed what I see come in here for a checkride. You have some things to clean up, but you're well above average. And, I like your attitude. I'll tell you the couple of things you need to work on, and I won't waste your time bragging on all the good things you did." It was amazing, but I stayed cool all the way to the fuel pump. Then, when I got out and walked around to the front of the plane, the standard "woo-hoo!!" call of the aviator just came out. Everybody smiled, even the old guy gassing up my airplane. I felt great, and had to get back in my serious mode for the flight home. I barely remember that flight. I know I didn't do any barrel rolls, but I didn't miss any checkpoints, either. Phil did a good job with me, but my training is nowhere near over. Today, 16 August 1996, at 2013Z, I got my license to really learn how to fly, and I intend to use it to the fullest. Up there.
© 1996 Dan McGlaun