Monday, March 10, 2008

16th Flight - I'm a pilot!

A prayer for stable wind:

With the last few flights the winds of March have done their worst. A little crosswind, no problem. Variable winds of 8k gusting to 16k, uh...problem. Gusts are a huge problem for me, heck for any pilot, let alone a novice student. It boiled down to creating a non-stable environment for landings, and thus mine weren't turning out great. This posed a big problem, as I was really close to solo, and had in fact passed my stage check. I'd been really down, failing to show readiness to handle it on my own.

Today, however, showed immense promise. Winds calm, and when there was some, it came from the east. 10 Statute miles vis, and a cool 37° F. At last, an ideal outlook!

The plane was in the hanger, so we could wipe off the frost and pre-flight the airplane in warmth. After that was done, opening the doors to the nippy morning air sent chills up my back. Towed her into position, and I began checking the ground. Allot of wind had really kicked up a lot of rocks. I began picking them up and discarding them when Rob asked "What the heck are you doing." At that moment, the owner, disconnecting the tow hook, said "He's pickin up debree like he's 'sposed too." Heh, props from the man himself! After all, we found one nick off the propeller already!

Pre-flight was normal, except I was far more calm and at ease. The previous flights I'd been nervous to perform, hoping to solo. Now, I didn't really expect to, so all that burden was realeased.

First Flight of the Day:

The first take-off of the day is always a definning one. As simple a manuever as it is, it's often a tale of how things will go. (Not to mention what the winds are really up to.) This one was a nice graceful lift-off. Perfect and smooth was the air, with just a slight Easterly wind. Pattern was nice and easy to keep square, and the cool air gave great climb performance. (Normally I fly later when it's about 20° warmer.)

Time came for the 2nd crucial judge of performance, the first landing of the day. I shrugged away the doubt, and setup for a good 60-65k speed, and was one light above glide. Runway 08 has a fairly close tree line, so it's right where I wanna be. I notice the other instructor & student are at the hold line in the DA-40. YAY, everyone loves a show *smirk*! I round out, worried if I'll nail this landing... I pull back a little, feel her out, a little more... it's all art & skill now...*eeeerrp* Ahh a nice one. In my head, the lando-meter trips over to 80. Wow, 80 landings...have I really done that many?

Slipin' the Ship:

Flaps up a notch and we're on the go again. "Pitt-Greenville Traffic Diamond 636DC is upwind on runway 08, Pitt-Greenville." Inside I'm ecstatic! It had been a couple of lessons since I really nailed a landing. One good one, just a few more and I'll be on cloud 9! I'm downwind when I notice the DA-40 is STILL sitting there at the hold line. Hmmm that's odd, why aren't they going. They've had plenty of time to do a run-up and take-off. Rob replies, "oh they're probably just watching!" Yay, a continued audience, no pressure! This time we hold 500' on final to do a slip. Winds from the right, I bank in, full left rudder and into a forward slip we go. Takes me a few corrections to keep the runway centerline, then I'm holdin' it pretty well. Slips was one of the things the other instructer (who happens to be watching in the DA-40) said I needed to work on during the stage-check. We're about 100' away when the other instructor radios "Beauty" or some similar description. Rob radios back in agreement. WOW, the toughest, most critical instructor just paid my flying a compliment... OK PINCH ME, I'M DREAMING! I relise the slip and come to another nice flare and landing! Oh this day keeps getting better!

Another day, another engine failure:

The third time through the pattern and comes the, almost expected, simulated engine failure. That's not to say I don't take them lightly, quite the contrary. You do, however, become trained to calmly handle them, and not panic. So with my vitals stable, I pitch for 70knots (best glide). Not enough altitude to run through a checklist, just land the plane. I turn in early off the downwind, and we're high. Another slip it is. This one needed a slightly more aggressive slip, as we tried to loose allot of altitude quickly. I felt a little anxious to get down, as we're 50' up at halfway down the runway. So I end up doing a lite, yet barely flared 3-pt landing. Ah well, so much for the perfect landing streak. Still it was smooth, no bouncing at all, just firm.

Is it that time?

We taxy back to the FBO, with our short hour already gone. It was short and sweet, and had my confidence boosted back up. Rob is kinda talkin' to himself, with barely audible references to "time" and "readiness." I park the plane in the first spot and shut down. I lift the clear canopy up and feel the brisk morning air. I'm feeling a bit of relief, taking in the air, when Rob says "Hang here in the plane for a minute." My eyes get real big. OMG, is it that time, but....but we don't have any time! He runs in, and apparently successfully bargains some time from the next student. He comes out, and I have my log-book ready. I hand it over and he walks away again. I'm trying to remain calm... breath in the cool air Brian...just breath. Rob runs out, hands me my logbook, and I check for the necessary sign-offs. "Ok, your good to go. I want you to do three T/O and landings," gleamed Rob. "Full-stop?" I enquire. "Just touch and goes on the first two, full-stop on the last." With that he smiles and says "Keep good care of my headset for me!" I look to awkward empty seat beside me, with just an empty headset.

Off on my own:

Yes, it was that time...the time every student looks forward to, and yet doesn't look forward to. No back up now, your on your own. No visual feedback from the instructor if your getting yourself into trouble. Nada, nothing, no cosa. Even though I'd just flown the plane, I thought it best to follow my checklists to a tee. I calmly check the electrical, fuses, charge, etc.. All good. I begin the engine start routine, clear the area, and yell an enthusiastic "CLEAR!" The engine immediatly ROARS to life. I pull back the revs to idle (1000rpm). I check the engine vitals, and apart from getting cooler, she's set to go. "Good girl," I thought. I click on the avionics, and do my standard weather check. Unsurprisingly, nothing's changed. I key on the mic for the first time alone... "Pitt-Greenville Traffic Diamond 6-3-6-Delta-Charlie taxing to runway 0-8 via taxiway Alpha." I test the brakes and I'm off!!! I kept thinking how far away that runway was, and thankful PGV isn't a busy airport. As I approach the 02-20 runway hold marker, a USAir (Piedmont operated) Dash-8 radio's on base for 02. I see them, in his fairly wide pattern, and know I have plenty of time to cross the runway. I radio to them, letting know I have them in site, and cross the runway. What seems a few moments later I've arrived at 08, performed my runup, double check the list, check the vitals again, scan for traffic, and make the call. "...6DC departing runway 0-8, Pitt-Greenville."

No Turning Back:

As I line up on the centerline, I gradually put in the power...20 knots airspeed is live...30, 40, 45...I begin pulling her back, 50, 55 and I'm off! A minor bank to the right for wind correction, speed up to 70 and I climb. OMG do I climb. Without another passenger the plane just wanted to climb! Not 100' off the ground and I come to the SAME sudden realization that other students have. OMG, Now I'm going to have to land this! No turning back, she's in the air and flying... That phrase I've heard comes to mind "Take-offs are optional, landings are manditory." I quickly try and shake the feeling and nervousness off. "I know what I'm doing, I CAN do this." my mind claims, and becomes my anxiety cure. 500', flaps up... my mouth is dry as I make my radio call and turn crosswind 750'. I realize immediatly that I'm barely at the end of the runway...she really climbed fast! So fast that I even overshoot pattern altitude by 100'. I call downwind (parallel to runway), and get back to 1000'. Don't ask me what the scenery was like, because I don't even remember. All I do recal, is the runway, hitting my visual turn points, and that's it. No site-seeing today, just fly the plane! As 08-26 is a short runway the calm relaxing downwind didn't last long enough. At the numbers I began the usual proceedure. Pull back power, bleed off speed, put in first notch of flaps, and begin ....the decent.

The First Solo Landing:
Everyone has there favorite runways, for whatever the reason. As I turned base, I was glad to be on one of mine. I hit my visual marker, two small ponds below, and turned onto the final stretch. Two red, two white...alright! The PAPI lights don't lie and so far, all is well. With that and ~72k of airspeed, I put in the landing flaps. As there are only two settings on the DA-20 C1, it goes from 15 degrees, to 45! A huge change that is always immediatly felt. With an electric wirr, and lite thunk, I pointed the nose down further. With that I made sure my decent was stabilized, ~450 ft/min on the VSI, good. Winds were dead calm, and I didn't need many adjustments to stay on the centerline. The end is coming near, soon, I'll have to land this appendage strapped to me. I work the throttle ever so slightly to keep the numbers coming at me, and at the same place in the windshield. This focus keeps me calm. The final moments were at hand, and for those who can explain it, good on ya. To this day, the engineer in me can't explain the final steps or process. To me, it's become instinctive art...nothing less. Where I round out, the flare, and how one transitions into a near stall moments before touching down. The moments are blurred together, with the mere memory that the landing was a good one. I did it, holy cow (or some other catch phrase), I did it. Seconds later, flaps to T/O, back on the throttle...and it's time for another go!

As events go, the first time is the hardest, and the next two landings were easier. My 2nd landing was spot on. My third, was actually my only so-so landing, as a gust pushed me off the line, and I floated her a while longer as I got back on center-line. Sadly Rob saw the first and the last...and not my best one. Ah well. I'll take what I can get!

Whew, it's over!
Taxing back to the FBO, I was both excited and relieved. It was over, for better or worse, and fortunetly it had been for the better! I shut her down, and opened up the canopy. The cold air nearly chilled me. I'd had left the heat on, and combined with the pressure, I was a walking wetnap. As I stretched up in victory, I saw the other instructor & student arrive in the DA-40. Both gave me thumbs up and clapped. Very few times, have I really felt proud of something I've done. I'm usually pretty hard on myself, but I couldn't help feeling satisfied! Rob came over with Wayne and said "Look at that, the boy is sweatin' bad!" I know he was teasing, as I climbed out, and shook his hand while Wayne shot a photo. I realize now, thinking back, that I was so relieved that I even forgot to take out the key and write down the tach/hobbs info. DOH! Well at least the next student was already out at the plane, no worries.

Another Name on the Wall-
Shortly thereafter I was guided inside, and thanked the student whose time I borrowed to make this possible. I felt bad, so I asked them to put 100$ of his tab on mine... They proceeded, with some extremely dull scissors, to cut the tail off my grey NACCO shirt. It was really soaked! "We'll let this dry off a bit!" Rob smirked. Everyone congratulated me, and thus started the usual "solo" stories! (Pilots love talking about their experiences, and we never tire hearing them!) As Rob walked out for his next lesson, I did my final act. I walked up the stairs to the conference rooms, where the sky blue walls full of signatures set. Two columns, those who've soloed and those who've attained their Private Pilot Certificate. I grabbed the sharpy marker and added my name to the "SOLO" list. I look over the list and find I'm the fourth in my class to solo! Three others in my class had yet to solo...but I didn't really care about that. My dream & goal of writting my name on that wall before I turned 34 had been achieved. NOW, I thought, I'm a Pilot!