Once again, I've reached into the depths of my bag of luck and made a withdrawal. Tonight I decided to take Nirmala out on a night flight -- it was a really nice night out, and there are a few storms coming through this week so I wanted to get one more flight in the Cessna before not flying for a while.
Things started out a little messy. I accidentally left the passenger headset next to the box of plane keys by the door to the club. I almost left the tail tiedown tied down. And, my flashlight is on its last legs. I probably should've just canceled the flight at that point, but startup went well, and taxi and runup went well, so I went ahead.
We took a left crosswind departure out of San Carlos runway 12, and flew across the bay over Fremont. We did a 180 and came back in toward Palo Alto. Palo Alto gave me a base entry to runway 31, so I took it, and recovered from a high approach to land pretty smoothly. I taxied back, and we were cleared for takeoff so I took off.
Unfortunately, at liftoff, I was only going about 45 knots, way too slow. I pushed the yoke forward, fighting the liftoff forces and trying to gain some speed. I was already in the air, above the runway. At 65 I could do no more, and we were climbing. But why so slowly? I showed normal power, the engine sounded fine, but I was climbing maybe at 200 or 300 feet per minute. I was frightened, but I managed to make about 70 knots and still climbing. I thought about turning back, but I figured that it was just as far to San Carlos as it would be to turn around and get back to Palo Alto. And, I was climbing, just not how I expected to.
I went ahead and switched to San Carlos tower and got a clearance to land straight in to runway 30 -- the winds were calm. I'd made 1000 feet, finally -- it sure took a long time, and the plane would not break 80 knots.
Then I realized.
My flaps were still out. Fully out, 30 degrees of flaps. I just frickin' took off, at night, with a passenger, with full flaps.
I am still reeling from my stupidity; I can't believe I did such a stupid thing as to (a) not clean up the aircraft after coming off the runway, and (b) not check the flaps prior to takeoff. I could've easily entered a low altitude stall, and then we'd have been totally screwed.
My lessons from tonight: 1. Flaps, and the flap switch in the Cessna, are not visible at night. They don't enter your visual scan; you have to make a special effort to think about them. 2. Checklists are your friends. Use them every time, even in the most familiar of circumstances. 3. Even the most friendly, well behaved passengers give you more to think about and make it harder to focus. 4. A Cessna 172SP CAN actually take off and climb with full flaps. Just don't ever, ever do it again.