Learning to fly

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Flight #9
June 5, 1999, 8am
(1.4 hrs) 9.5 total

A broken overcast and very breezy. A very good chance of soloing today shot to hell. So we stayed in the pattern and got lots of touch and go work done. Concentration on rudder control on final and during the flare. With the breeze today, I needed extreme concentration on final and lots more power to keep positive control and correct airspeed.

After about 45 minutes we headed over to Pickens to relax a bit and try some touch and go’s on 16. The wind was just as bad, if not worse at Pickens. I touched down a couple of times fairly well considering the crosswind after the first awful lineup (and one very nearly sideways final all the way down), then we headed back to Cherokee.

We joined the pattern on the downwind behind another student from the flight school next door to Randall’s. He was in a wide pattern and long downwind and I had to follow him and make the best of it. On the second lap with him, there was another plane preparing for departure on 4 and instead of aborting and executing a go round, he pulled a 360 on final! No radio call, nothing. Karen about had a fit and radioed him asking his intentions about midway through his 360 (as he was headed directly for us). Then on a later lap he did it again! We had to turn the pattern into a 2 mile final just to stay clear of him. Karen was fit to be tied. So we came to a full stop, feeling the safest thing to do was call it a day and leave the sky to him.

Flight #10
June 10, 1999, 7pm
(1.0 hrs) 10.5 total

Thunderstorms were threatening all afternoon and a 16 knot crosswind from the south made soloing today out of the question once again. So we stayed in the pattern again and did touch and go’s. Crosswinds are actually becoming somewhat fun now even though they require a lot of work. Keep a bit of more power final on to maintain a slight airspeed ‘cushion’ in case the wind shifts and steals some knots from me. My rudder work is definitely improving. It is becoming more and more frequent that just as Karen mentions things like “a bit more power” or “watch your bank”, I’m already in the process of correcting it. She seems a bit anxious to get the solo out of the way and I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, but of course the weather is not cooperating. On the other hand, my crosswind lineups on final and landings are getting a good workout and she likes that.

After nearly an hour of touch and go’s, a large cloud had moved over the runway and played havoc with our last final approach. I porpoised a bit with an overcorrection on the flare, but it came down surprisingly smooth after holding it steady and just letting the airspeed bleed off.

Flight #11
June 13, 1999, 10am
(1.6 hrs) 12.1 total

A beautiful sunny day with a few puffy clouds scattered throughout the sky and temperatures in the mid 80’s with a very slight breeze. It seemed that there would be a good chance to solo this morning, but when we got airborne, the thermals were already starting to get pretty bumpy. Not too bad, but it seemed that whenever I would get over the threshold, one would be waiting for me and give me a kick. And as the morning wore on, they only got worse.

Today was the day for idiot transmissions on the radio. We can hear Winder Airport on the radio and they were landing on runway 13. We were practicing touch and go’s on runway 4 at Cherokee. Suddenly I was making every radio call and referring to runway 14 - and confusing everyone within 50 miles. People were asking where was runway 14 and Karen was keeling over with laughter while watching me make an fool of myself and creating havoc near and far. We were mistaken for a control tower by another plane and someone called up another tower and requested a sandwich be ready for them when they landed. But my landings were adequate for the conditions and after we were done Karen asked if I could come back later in the day to possibly get smoother air and solo if I was “hitting” my landings. Hmmm, what do you think?

Flight #12
June 13, 1999, 5pm
(1.7 hrs dual/.3 hrs Solo) 14.1 total

It was still sunny and a few medium sized clouds were floating around in the steady breeze. And as it always is in Atlanta in the summer, humid and hot. We hit the pattern again and after a few touch and go’s I finally realized that when I’m barreling down the runway for takeoff, I really have no need for the left rudder pedal to keep on the centerline. Just a slight tap every now and then on the right pedal will do. Up until now I’ve been tapping back and forth: left, right, left, right and the left pedal was always an overcorrection fishtailing me down the runway. So now without touching the left rudder, I’m straight as an arrow all the way into the air. Ha! Now I can concentrate more on keeping the nose down and watching for liftoff speed. Sure enough, everything goes much smoother after that. My landings were smoothing out and I was even centered on the runway better on final. Up until now I’ve been landing like I was driving in the UK, always on the left of centerline.

My transitions to pattern altitude are smoothing out too. Now, just about the time I’m turning downwind, I’m about 50 to 100 ft from pattern altitude. Before this, I was always halfway through the downwind leg before I was leveled out and steady. Now I’ve have more time to concentrate on setting up for the transition to landing configuration. Well, after about an hour of touch and go’s, we came to a full stop and Karen asked if I was ready to do it by myself. Instant butterflies. But really only for a moment and I nodded. So she signed me off for 3 full stop circuits as we taxied back to the hold line. She jumped out, unplugged her headset and with a thumbs up and a quick reminder about my airspeed on final, walked away.

Holding at the side of the runway, I looked around the skies for a moment since I would have to wait for the Piper ahead of me to take off. I also wanted to be sure that there was no one else in the pattern that I had not seen. It wouldn’t do to taxi onto the runway in front of a plane on short final. Then the Piper was past me and it was my turn.

A deep breath and punch the mike:“Cherokee County 019 SOLO on backtaxi to runway 4”. No butterflies now. Nothing. Just a slight disbelief that this was it. Add a bit of throttle and turn around at the end of the runway, and line it up perfect with the centerline. God, why was that so much easier than when Karen is in here? OK, down to business. The mantra: Oil gauges in the green, primer in and locked, mags on both, carb heat cold, mixture rich, flaps up, gas on both, takeoff trim. “Cherokee County 019 SOLO ready for departure on runway 4”. Full throttle and I’m moving forward.

60 knots later, I’m in the sky, alone, and a big dumb grin on my face. YES! Up to pattern altitude in no time flat and suddenly it’s time to turn final. Jesus, this is going by too fast. A good lineup and please God don’t let me screw up. Airspeed on 70 knots and the runway is right where it’s supposed to be. Unbelievable. When I have the runway made, throttle back to idle and flare. Chirp! A greaser! HA! Not too many of those up until now. I’m having too much fun. Careful, don’t get cocky and do something stupid. You still have two more to do.

As I taxi up to the hold line Karen radioed, “That was pretty, can you do another one?” I can see her and nod, sure. OK, so the next one wasn’t a chirp, but it was only a very small bump and then down for sure. It counts.

Taxi back and once again into the air and after a short while, for only the third time I’m looking down at runway 4, all alone, lined up perfectly and the airspeed pinned at 70 knots. Throttle back, flare, and CHIRP again! Three of the prettiest and smoothest landings I have ever done! And over much, much too fast.

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