Learning to fly

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Flight #25
Aug 14, 1999, 9am
(1.0 Solo) 34.6 total

Warm and humid with a mostly blue sky, minimal haze and a deceptive breeze. A good day to schedule a dual cross-country, but Karen’s schedule is too full. After the preflight and run up in N65WB, I waited at the hold line for quite awhile since the pattern was pretty busy. When there was no one on final or base and one plane was just about midfield on downwind, I got my chance to pull out onto the runway. Unfortunately, even though I did my takeoff check on backtaxi to stay out of his way, he had turned short base and short final just as I was throttling up and he had to execute a go-round.

For the rest of the hour I kicked myself for not communicating and asking him to extend his downwind. After I took off, the pattern was still very full and a few more pilots were doing what I should have done, making me feel even more guilty. I stayed in the pattern and only needed to come to a full stop after one landing that I dropped in pretty hard.

As I waited at the hold line again, Karen was with another student at midfield downwind and broke in and asked if I needed her to extend. Now I really knew I had made a mistake since my instructor was obviously subtling pointing it out to me. (It turned out later that she wasn’t doing anything of the sort, but I sure felt that way). I rogered her and taxied out for another takeoff. I kept in the pattern even though I wanted to go out and just do some flight maneuvers to get away, but it seemed that my landings needed work today so I stayed. After an hour, I slammed my last landing onto the runway and gave up for the day.

Flight #26
Aug 21, 1999, 9am
(2.4 Dual) 37.0 total

Warm and mostly sunny with some haze and fog, but Gadsden and Cherokee were both VFR. So was everywhere in between, so my second dual cross-country was a go. Before the flight, Karen asked if I was free all day. She said that if everything went ok on this flight I would be able to solo cross-country to Toccoa when we got back. That sounded good, but in my mind I wasn’t so sure I would be able to handle the radio well enough. This flight would prove it.

As we climbed to 4,500’ and leveled off, we opened our flight plan with Macon Radio and I rehearsed what I would say to Atlanta Center to ask for Flight Following. No problem. I mashed the button to make the initial contact. They got back to me with, “N1975E, wait one”.

After what seemed a very long wait, they came back to me and asked for my request. I mashed the button once again, opened my mouth and out came a bunch of gurgling and stammering. Karen saved it by cutting in and asking for Flight Following like it was no problem at all. I think they must have felt sorry for us because they agreed to take us under their wing and look after us. Later they tried to contact us to warn about traffic and since I was concentrating on finding my landmarks, I didn’t hear it. Again, Karen made the reply and called the traffic in sight. My chances of making a solo cross-country anytime soon have become very slim now. The skies above North Georgia and Alabama will be safe for many more days.

The bright spot of the flight was my pilotage. All of my landmarks were showing up where they belonged, and showing up right on time to boot! I was able to maintain heading and altitude with reasonable accuracy, so I didn’t feel like a complete dummy. I was starting to think that I need to be more assertive about what I am doing in the cockpit and not wait so long for Karen’s input.

At my last checkpoint, 11 miles from Gadsden Airport, I should have begun a 500 FPM descent that would have put me at pattern altitude upon arrival and under better control than when I did. But I waited for her to tell me when to start and consequently was much too high and I had to do a bit of maneuvering to stay near the airport, avoid overflying a large factory with it’s man-made thermals, lose altitude and get set up for the 45 degree pattern entry, all at the same time. Not to mention slogging through a radio call to request a runway and traffic advisory, which was not forthcoming since the airport was virtually empty.

As I finally settled into the pattern for runway 6, I was still a bit too high and fast, then put in the first 10 degrees of flaps just outside the white arc. Not good at all. On final it was as gusty as I have ever flown in, but at least I kept it pretty well lined up. Then the optical illusion set in without my realization.

Since Gadsden has a 150’ wide runway, twice the size of Cherokee, it created the illusion of being closer to the ground than I really was and I flared and ‘landed’ the plane about 3’ above the ground. Whump! Groan. This was Karen’s plane and I felt particularly bad about abusing her plane this way while she watched helplessly. Soon, it became apparent that it also would have made sense to fly a little farther down the runway before touching down and avoid having to taxi nearly the full length of the runway to get to the FBO. Not a very pretty or elegant end to this leg of the trip. We taxied to the front of FBO and shut down. I closed our flight plan while the plane was being refueled and filed our plan for the flight back.

Our takeoff for home was fairly uneventful, although when I called that we were departing the pattern straight out to the north (it was ENE) Karen stared at me like I was looney. I was beginning to feel like I was. But at least again, all of my landmarks were still there and on time. But getting down to pattern back at Cherokee was a bit troublesome since we were not able to start our descent on time due to 2 planes directly below us. So I flew a wide setup for the 45 entry, but not wide enough and again I was high for our pattern entry. But at least my landing was smooth to end on a positive note.

Flight #27
Aug 28, 1999, 8am
(1.0 Solo) 38.0 total

Warm and hazy with blue skies and a stiff wind. I just practiced getting in and out of the pattern today while making intelligent radio calls with respect to my location, altitude and intentions.

My first takeoff was from runway 22 even though the wind dictated runway 4. But a big twin was insisting on using 22 because he wanted the slight downhill assist. So my first landing was pretty fast with the wind behind me. I taxied off and took off behind another Cessna, but when he left the pattern, I was all alone. So I departed the pattern and after a quick sightseeing excursion, reentered after 10 minutes, calling runway 4 as my destination. A much better touchdown and I left the pattern again to sightsee and practice on the radio. I left and came back a couple more times for good measure and since my mouth cooperated, I did fairly well. In fact, well enough that back on the ground, Randall asked if I was ready to go to Toccoa on my solo cross-country. But I had left my premade flight plan at home and since I have a lot of notes to myself on them and didn’t feel like recreating them from scratch, I opted to go home to get them and fly after lunch. Unfortunately, soon after I got home, Randall called and said Karen was concerned that it was getting more hazy by the hour and I shouldn’t go. So I’ll have to wait at least until my next lesson on Saturday.

Flight #28
Sept 4, 1999, 1pm
(2.0 Solo) 40.0 total

Temperatures in the high 80’s today with almost no clouds and a slight breeze from the north blowing away any haze. I was pretty positive that Toccoa would be on the agenda for today and sure enough, as soon as I got there Karen asked if I was ready to go on my cross-country. I said I was but she wanted to go a pattern lap or two with me to see how I did in the midday thermals first. I was fine, so on the second touchdown, we came to a full stop and she hopped out.

The radios were set by that time and the VORs tuned to the correct radials, so I taxied out to runway 4 and took off. Leaving the pattern and climbing to 3,500’, I got lined up with the Foothills VOR. With such a gorgeous day, it was a piece of cake. The VOR needle stayed centered pretty easily and I was able to hold altitude with no effort, even though there were quite a few thermals bouncing me around. I tried to open my flight plan, but could never raise Macon Radio. That was about the only thing that went wrong on the whole flight. Atlanta Center declined to follow me on radar outbound since I was too low, but I was able use them on the return trip at 4,500’.

At the Foothills VOR, I turned toward Toccoa airport and because they were landing on runway 20 right in front of me, I needed to lose a bit of altitude quick to get to pattern altitude. So I did a 360 off to the South Carolina side of the airport and set up for downwind. I landed and taxied over to the gas pump, walked inside the FBO, filed the return flight plan, ordered some more gas and took off again for home.

Even less eventful was the trip back. Again, not able to open my flight plan with Macon Radio, but at least all of my landmarks were right where they were supposed to be and right on time. 10 miles from home with the runway in sight, I terminated Flight Following and set up to enter downwind for runway 4. Landed with no problems and a big smile. Tired but real happy with how easy it actually turned out to be. Tomorrow: Gadsden, Alabama.

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