It took me a while, but I finally came to the conclusion that even though I now have my private pilot's license, I still need to keep doing what I was doing before and go out and practice. Prior to today's flight, I hadn't flown in two weeks. And guess what? The same thing happens now after a long layoff as before I got the license. The piece of paper does not keep me from getting rusty and losing my feel for the plane and for landing.
So I went out and practiced today. I want to fly to Sacramento on July 4 (my band has a show), but I would not have been comfortable just getting in a plane after 2.5 weeks off. My goal today was to do 5 landings in a 172SP, at Palo Alto. Pretty much my standard pre-license drill.
So I went out in 751MF, a 2000 172SP. When I got to PAO, it was a beautiful day, but much windier than I'd thought. The METAR report said the wind was from 340 at 12 knots but the windsock said that it was gusty and shifting a little, but mostly right down the runway. Good practice day!
Starting up the plane went totally smoothly! That was gratifying, since the last time I had some trouble. I paused for a long time prior to giving my radio call; when I haven't done it in a while I feel the need to make sure I know exactly what I'll be saying. Of course, someone wound up stepping on my transmission so I had to say it 3 times anyway.
The first couple of laps were a little frustrating in that everyone and their brother was leaving Palo Alto for the long weekend. There were eight planes in line to take off at one point! I was #4. Another time I was #5 to land. So I was not able to make normal patterns; everything was getting extended out, and that combined with my lack of practice and the wind conditions pretty much made my first two landings sub-ideal. They were not bad; I touched down gently, and both times rather extremely on the upwind wheel. I'm not sure if that was really necessary, because the sock was saying the wind was almost directly down the runway, but on the other hand I was just reacting to what the plane was doing, so maybe it was OK.
The third landing attempt was bad, and I wound up pushing the power full and going around. I executed the go-around OK, except that I lost pitch control of the plane for a few seconds upon adding power. Pretty scary so close to the ground. Now this might sound a little overconfident or cocky, but it's not and I'll explain why in a sec: I'm very glad that my reflexes tend to compensate for my lack of experience. In this case, I put myself in a little bit of a scary situation and was pitching up and down very close to the ground, but my instincts said "Level the plane!" and that's what I did, which was the right thing. The reason I say it's not cocky is that even though this has happened a few times, I still cannot and do not ever expect it to happen, and use that as an excuse to either stop learning or stop doing everything I can in the planning phase.
Anyway, so I went around, and my third landing was pretty decent. By this time I was thinking about just terminating, but the amount of traffic dropped off dramatically, so I stayed and did landings #4 and #5, both of which were quite good.
So, all in all, I'm very glad I went. It was exhausting, and I made a few small mistakes (I forgot to turn on my beacon on the first lap, and I couldn't understand what I assume was a "position and hold" call at one point), but all in all it was really good, and I handled the wind pretty well. I think I'll be ready for Tuesday, but just in case, I have time scheduled on Sunday and Monday too. I need to do at least one of those, because they're both in San Carlos, which is where I'll be flying from on Tuesday.