Monday September 30th 2002, 2pm, N5766J, 1.2H

I took the afternoon off to go flying. With the evenings getting too dark and Grainne working on some on the weekends it seemed like the best way to keep the 2~3 lessons per week schedule. After the last lesson I felt like I was getting close to “finding” the landing flare so I was keen to fly again to see if I could finally nail it. I am frustrated! Today’s lesson was almost as bad as last Wednesday and I felt once again that I was going backwards. I just cannot seem to time the flare correctly or flare too much or too little. I think out of all the landings we did today only one was even acceptable and I felt that that was just luck – try it enough times and one is bound to be OK just by chance rather than by skill. This is definitely one of those learning plateau’s you read about. The fact that these are common and that flares and landings are the most common problem area doesn’t make me feel any better. However, one day I will look back at this and wonder what it was I found so hard and all the bad feelings will be forgotten. The very difficulty of what I’m trying to do, will make attaining the eventual goal all the sweeter. It brings to mind a quote from Kennedy about going to the moon, he said,
“We choose to go to the moon! We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”.

Learning to fly is a personal version of the very same challenge. It is hard, if it were easy everyone would be a pilot. The very fact that its hard is what makes it worth doing, that, and the enormous reward of being able to fly!

While I’m indulging in a written therapy session I might as well put down my other nagging frustration. Everyone with a good self image tends to think themselves good at what they do. Be it driving a car, being an engineer or being a student pilot. For me, learning new things has always come easily. My job depends on my ability to turn-over my skill set every couple of years as new technologies obsolete most of what I knew before. Starting off, I hoped I would be a star student, quick to learn, a joy to teach, nailing every challenge along the way. I knew that many students solo at about 20 hrs. You read some stories where guys do their first solo at a little over 10 hrs. I know its not a race, I know its not important how many hours I’ve got when I eventually solo, but at almost 25 hrs and knowing I’m not nearly ready its just compounds the frustration. I will solo, and I’ll do it when I’m really ready and when my CFI knows I‘m ready, be it 30 hrs or 50 hrs. But still, I had that 20 hr figure in my head when I started and failing this personal goal bugs me. However, now I can look forward to how good that first solo will feel, because I had to work so hard to get it.

So what was the actual lesson like. Well, it was windy, ATIS said the wind was only 7 at 320, but it was really gusting in unexpected directions. This meant that I spent a lot of energy just keeping the plane steady. It was an extra chore flying the pattern with the wind fighting the plane the whole way around. After a normal taxi, run-up and take-off we entered left traffic. There weren’t many other planes around and we mostly had runway 31L to ourselves. Starting off ATC was a pain, the first three times around I had to remind him I was turning onto base to get a landing clearance, this is just one more thing to have to think of at a busy time. As before the pattern work and approaches were mainly OK. I need to watch my airspeed on those dangerous turns onto final, I got a bit slow on one of them (60knots). I had one approach where I was way too high, I’m not sure why. But I elected to go around once it became clear I wasn’t going to get down in the first half of the runway. Another go-around happened unexpectedly. My glide slope was good coming over Eastridge Mall, but just before Tully Road (just off the runway fence) a sudden sink pushed me down, I recovered well by adding enough power to counter it and was fine rounding out over the numbers with the throttle back on idle. Then just as I started the flare, we suddenly found ourselves almost 50’ back up in the air. I know my airspeed was right on 65 knots as I started the round out so I don’t think excessive speed was the cause. It must have just been a gust that caught us just at the wrong time and gave us way too much lift. Either way I found myself with the stall horn going off, 50’ above the ground. Grainne called the go around while I was still wondering what just happened. Got full power in and got the nose down, but not quite enough – its takes a little courage to point the nose anywhere down so close to the ground, we briefly heard the stall horn again and then I got the nose low enough and did a slow slightly scary crawl along at about the same altitude as we gained speed and then finally started upwards at something approaching normal.

There were two other low points of the lesson. On the second last landing we did a full stop, I usually elect to do this when I know I’m getting tired, the taxi time gives me a chance to catch my breath. I was waiting for my take off clearance when ATC asked me did I want to “remain in right traffic”. I said I did and he cleared me for take-off on 31R. Now I had spent the whole afternoon flying left traffic and using 31L. I heard “remain in …”, so I happily proceeded to taxi to 31L instead of 31R to take off on the wrong runway. Thankfully, Grainne caught what I was doing before I got too far and we made an ungraceful turn back onto 31R and took-off. Yet one more reminder that I’m not ready to be in this plane on my own. Then, I managed to forget to put more than 10 degrees of flaps in on the last approach and we reached the numbers doing about 75 knots, without me realizing something was wrong. Grainne basically landed the plane, after a very long float down most of the runway. It was a poor end to a bad day. I know I was stressed and tired on that last loop around right traffic. It is so true that fatigue and stress make you stupid.

So, what is next. I’m flying again next Thursday afternoon. Grainne suggested, and I was happy to agree, that we would do something else instead of more pattern work. She said it would stop me getting rusty on the other skills I’ll need for the stage one checkride, so we‘ll do some slow flight and stalls and maybe a landing or two and see how they turn out. But, it will also be a break from the frustration. As Grainne is working her other job on Saturday, I’ve booked a lesson with Yoed. I like his style and he brings a different perspective to the lessons. I believe, when you hit a plateau like this you just keep changing the variables until you find the one causing the problem. A fresh pair of eyes seeing what I’m doing wrong might help and it can’t hurt.