Monday, January 07, 2008

Bloody Flight

I was a little nervous about going on my lesson today, since I gave blood for my company's experiments in the morning -- that's right, my employer not only takes my sweat and my tears, but also my blood. But by some miracle of scheduling, I had an instrument lesson scheduled on the very day that the weather let up for a moment, by which I mean it was not raining cats and dogs, and the sun was evident if not abundant, so I had to go for it! I was actually feeling fine by the afternoon, just a bit tired, which may or may not have had anything to do with the bloodletting.

As we prepped for the flight, John asked me how I felt. We sometimes joke around; one of us will say "Let's go flying" and the other will say something like "Sounds dangerous." This time, I told him I was scared of flying with anything else in the air with me, including other planes, birds and clouds.

So John completely disregarded my deep-seated fears, and we went up in 222MF with the intent of flying the Stockton VOR 29R, Tracy GPS-A and Livermore ILS 25R -- standard trifecta of practice approaches, which I should theoretically be able to do in my sleep, but somehow still can't.

Stockton first. The flight over was fine; I found myself WAY ahead of the airplane, totally in control of everything....until, during the holding pattern in-lieu-of procedure turn, the GPS (which I was using only for situational awareness at that point, of course) sequenced me funny -- it claimed I was between the VOR and the MAP, when I hadn't returned to the VOR yet. I was later informed that it was because I'd twisted the inbound course after switching the nav source to NAV1, so the GPS didn't pick it up. Anyway, no matter, I don't need no stinkin' GPS for a VOR approach, so onward. I had a large deflection on the CDI, but since I was right over the VOR I didn't worry about it much. Actually I didn't worry about it enough. Alright. So it was a shaky approach, the missed went OK, and I held for three turns before being set up for Tracy.

We were sent direct ECA to begin the approach at Tracy, this time with John essentially prompting my brain. I guess this is what happens after some time off. What's next? What are you going to do when you get there? It's not hard, but the prompting did help. First fix, down to 2000. Next fix, 1600. Alright, here comes the....


What the hell was that?? We'd clearly hit something; I'd felt the plane jerk to the left. I pulled my JeppShades off, and saw John checking systems -- everything looked OK; we were still flying, which was a good sign. John told Norcal we'd be landing in Tracy, and took the controls. As we overflew Tracy and realized how dark and unpopulated it was, John suggested that we just go back to Palo Alto, since we seemed to be flying fine, and if we had a problem, we may only get one landing. So I took the controls back, and John grabbed his flashlight and started shining it out my window. The wing strut was covered with blood: We'd hit a bird, and not a small one. John said he'd seen something large and white off to the left as it happened, so it all computed.

So we made our way into Palo Alto, not bothering to tell them about our issues. John was slightly concerned that whatever it was had hit the nose gear, so after we entered right base for 31 at PAO, we made a nice soft field landing (meaning, I did, with John's help). We dropped the nose, and it landed normally. Everything was fine, which was a big relief.

We taxied back and pulled into the parking taxiway, and killed the engine. I jumped out and saw the strut and the leading edge with blood and feathers all over the place. Then, just next to the front intake behind the prop on the cowling, was a large clump of blood and feathers. Ugh. As I was taking this in, John said, "Oh god." He'd gotten out, and he said, "It's still there." I went over to his side, and at the bottom of the strut was most of the bird, stuck to the plane. Ugh.

Too much blood on my hands (only figuratively, thankfully) for one day. I'm very happy that we landed safely and got home OK, but it's pretty much impossible to feel good about a flight like that. Not that I flew particularly well anyway. John should've listened to me! But he points out, I had a clearance; the bird did not....


nec Timide said...

So, how much blood did your employer take? I ask because normally there is a fairly long recommended period off flying after donating a pint of blood. You had an instructor with you so I wouldn't think there were any safety or regulatory issues, but it could explain how you felt, and your performance.

Glad everything worked out for you, if not for the bird.

MKT said...

Hi Nec,

Thanks for reading! No, it was much less than a pint...I'm not sure of the exact amount, but less than half. However, I don't think I would have gone if it were not an instructor situation..I didn't feel terrible or anything, but just that slightly under the weather feeling. I think you're right that it did have an effect on me even with the small-ish amount.

MKT said...

FYI -- about 0.1 pints :-)