Thursday, September 14, 2006

Comfort zone?

It's been a month since I last flew. A MONTH! And a summer month at that. It's been a terrible waste of daylight, a waste of a summer that should have been spent in the air. Now, it's not been without its causes. For one thing, I've been happier recently with the rest of my life (job, home) and therefore less eager to run away and go flying. For another thing, I was without a car for all of August, which was problematic at best.

I love flying. It's such a tremendous feeling to be up in the air. But as it is such a new skill for me, it requires a LOT of maintenance. I've read The Killing Zone, and I'm doing exactly what The Killing Zone says not to do: Stop training, fly occasionally. From now on, that ends. I fly once a week at least, and make sure I have at least one "good" landing per week. If I fly a cross country, and both landings are merely "OK" then I've got to go out and do pattern work.

Anyway, so it's been a MONTH. And today almost didn't happen, except that I was determined to go -- not a good state of mind in general, but necessary today. First, I came to Palo Alto and found out the plane I'd reserved was actually in San Carlos. My goof. No other 172SPs were available at Palo Alto, and I didn't want to fly out of San Carlos because while it was windy in Palo Alto (9 KT direct crosswind), it was even windier in San Carlos (by a lot). Plus, I hadn't flown in a MONTH, and PAO is definitely my comfort zone. So to extend my comfort zone, I ended up in 6521J, the plane I did almost all of my training in; the plane that led me to my license in the first place. Good plane.

So: Preflight was totally smooth. Radio work, taxi and runup were all great. Takeoff was...acceptable. I correctly went controls into the wind, but I kept feeling like it wanted to take off too early. I think the trim is not properly marked for takeoff. So I took off. First time around the pattern, I came in on a relatively short approach and ... whoops, I'm way too high, I can't align myself with the runway, screw it, I'm going around. I went around; it was a good go-around (and dealing with carb-heat again at that, a "feature" that the 172SP neither has nor needs thanks to its electronic fuel injection). OK. Second pass...not too high this time, but man, that wind is a pain! Actually I came in too low. Added a bit of power, and 6521J does this thing where the engine hesitates when adding power from idle in flight. I'd forgotten about that, and it was freaky, so I added more power. THEN I was high. Go around again.

Third pass. This time I took a nice long approach. I got positioned early. I kept the crab angle all the way in, and this time the same thing happened as last time, but I panicked less, so I didn't end up way too high -- just a little. I landed long, halfway down the runway, and ugly, with a little bounce, but safely. OK, one landing. Taxi back.

Fourth pass. An even longer approach thanks to the controller wanting to let a few planes out. Fine with me. This time I kept the approach under control and didn't panic when I felt low. This is a recurring theme with me, I feel low when I'm not. I didn't land as long, and this time I landed on the upwind wheel, as I should. My nose came down early and I had trouble controlling the plane to a standstill, though I did it. Yes, getting better!

Fifth pass. Another nice long approach, not as long as the last. This time I maintained my TPA better, and planned my descent much better. I cut power right over the numbers. I did everything almost right, touching down on the upwind wheel. I think the nose wheel hit a little harder than it should have after that, but not a big deal. All in all, a decent landing! Still a little controlling issue after all three wheels were down. I think this gets to what they say about "continuing to fly the plane even when it's down."

So, hopefully I can try again in the next couple of days, and maybe in an SP!

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