Another perfect solo weather day. I ended up with 8276E today, a plane I’d only flown once back in August and the oldest most worn Skyhawk in the Tradewinds fleet. The pre-flight went well, although I couldn’t make much sense of the audio panel, I used my full headset to call up for fuel because I couldn’t work out how to make the cabin mic work. This plane is hokey, the avionics are old and everything about it is worn around the edges. I had a normal downwind departure and headed back to the same area as I’d practiced in yesterday. My plan was to practice slow flight and stalls and then do some landings again at South County.
As I flew passed Anderson Reservoir I started to get what I can only describe as “the jitters”. Even though I’ve done stalls and slow flight in every other plane in the fleet, 8276E was sufficiently different to make me nervous. I decided to skip the stalls and just do some slow flight and even then I started getting scared about stalling by mistake. It was as if all the confidence I had built up over the previous solo flights had evaporated. Truly I got myself more scared and nervous then my very first solo flight. I slowed down to 55 KIAS and just flew it straight at that speed just practicing maintaining my altitude – this was pretty basic stuff, but I just wasn’t ready to try anything more difficult. As I powered up again event the engine sounded wrong to me – even though it was just fine. It was like my mind was just looking for things to stress me out. As I was at 4000’ I decided to do a forward slip to get down. This is a fairly basic maneuver and it went well, I kept my heading and airspeed pretty constant and lost about 1500’ before coming out of the slip and turning back towards South County.
There was no one else in the pattern at South County as I entered the right 45 for runway 32. I had a pretty normal approach, just aiming for a standard landing with nothing fancy. It went badly wrong in the flare. The plane ballooned up and then started slipping sideways to the right. I added some power but the bottom dropped out and I clunked down onto the runway at a slight angle. My front wheel came down quickly and started to shimmy. It was a mess, I got the weight of the nose wheel and it stopped complaining. This was by far my worst landing in a very long time and it did nothing to help my already diminished confidence. Based on the theory that you climb right back on the horse that you just fell off, I decided to do another circuit of the pattern. I had just powered up for the takeoff when I realized my window was open, so I quickly brought the power back and closed the window – so much for following the checklists. This time through the pattern the approach was good but the landing was only marginally better. I still ballooned up and drifted sideways a bit, but I didn’t come down as hard or as uncontrolled. Still, it didn’t help boast my confidence much. I decided I’d had enough and tookoff for home.
On the straight in approach to 31L the jitters started again in earnest. I had to keep telling myself, I’ve done this plenty of times, its just the same, just follow the standard sequence. The approach went fine to spite being nervous and the landing was ok, if a bit flat. After the ballooning down in South County I under-compensated and didn’t really flare enough. Still, I was happy to be back on the ground in RHV. Today’s flight was really no fun. I didn’t realize just how much an unfamiliar plane would effect me and was surprised at how debilitating the fear could be. It was an unpleasant lesson but one well learned.