Friday, October 8, 2010

Beer Guy takes to the sky

January 30, 2010 I was afforded the opportunity to fly in a Cessna C-172. One of our local pilots was nice enough to take me up and show me around the country in his plane. That day proved to be the beginning of a great adventure!
I was marginally apprehensive, as I'd never been up in a small plane before. No problems flying on airliners and the like, but the expansive view from the cockpit of a general aviation aircraft provides a completely different experience. The difference is much like comparing a ride on a city bus with driving a Corvette on fresh asphalt. It's still transportation, but nothing else is the same.
After takeoff, roughly 100 feet above the runway, I decided that I had to learn to fly.
It took a few months to get started with lessons, but on May 3rd, I took my first training flight.
Flying weekly is a long way to the end, but that is what my schedule allows. Thursday mornings after dropping the kids at school (or the baby sitter during summer months) I would head to the airport and take my lesson.
Right away it became clear that this was a hobby that would require me to leave everything on the ground. It takes all of the concentration and self control you can muster to fly an airplane. It's simply not natural!
After several hours of flight instruction, the fear of dying in an airplane dissipated and it became clear that about the only thing that would kill me....was me! The plane will fly, as long as I don't crash it.
Even things like an engine failure simply don't provide the disastrous outcomes that most people have set in their mind. You train for the emergencies, and they become significantly less scary.
Progress is progress and I was making it. Right up until October 7th.
We were flying patterns around the local airport and my instructor started asking questions about my camera and if I had it in the pickup. I could tell that he was thinking solo flight.
I landed the plane, and he told me to go ahead and make this one a full stop. I was instructed to park the plane in front of the hanger. Then I knew!
He quickly signed the appropriate endorsements on my log book and my med certificate, and said to go make 3 landings.
WHAT! ARE YOU CRAZY? I CAN'T DO THAT!
Well, Yes, I can... I just didn't think I could.
I couldn't help but think that I was being a puss! After all, the instructor is willing to turn me loose in his aircraft (NOT A CHEAP INVESTMENT) and risk my life on his watch. I guess I must be ready.
I was a shaking mess through taxi and run-up, but as soon as I was on the runway, and applying power, that all ended.
Like I said, you leave everything on the ground when you fly. All of your fears, all of your anxiety, all of your emotions. There is no room for that crap inside the tiny cockpit.
Takeoff was textbook. A perfectly smooth liftoff and I was surprised at how much slower speed I came off the ground sans instructor.
My pattern could have been a bit more square, but it worked.
I missed the first landing, and opted for a go-around. My instructor came on the radio and informed me that the wind on the ground had picked up and was working against me.
I switched the radio over to the AWOS (Automatic Weather Observation Service) and learned that I had an 8 Knot tail wind on my landing attempt. No wonder I missed the landing.
Maneuvering for a change of plans was one of the first lessons I had, and I used it that day. I broke pattern, radioed to the blind and announced my intention to cross midfield at pattern altitude. I simply had to turn around and use the other runway.
After turning to the base leg of the landing pattern, I engaged an additional 10 degrees of flaps (For a total of 20) and realized that I was a bit low for as far out as I was. Flummoxed by the wind again!
Smooth addition of power and keeping an eye on my airspeed got me right back to where I needed to be.
Just as I entered the flair (the part where you level off and bring the nose up just before touchdown) the plane started to drift to the left. Correction at this stage of flight has never been my specialty. The controls are mushy at best and the plane simply isn't as responsive as normal.
I adjusted aileron control to the right and continued to hold the plane just off the runway.
At the exact moment that the plane was directly over the center line, the stall warning horn started to buzz and the wheels touched down. I couldn't ask for better than that.
The transition from flight to ground is a bit of a challenge, as you go from driving with your hands to your feet. I have occasionally had a wobbly exchange as I re-orient myself and zig-zag down the runway as I find my feet. But this time the transition was pretty smooth.
As soon as I was comfortably on the ground and the plane was slowing down, all of that crap I left on the ground came rushing to greet me.
My knees got weak, my heart was racing, my hands were shaking and I decided to call it quits!
I could have manned up and taken the next 2 patterns, but the simple fact is that Macho bullshit never got a pilot anything but killed. Good decision making ensures lots of safe landing and thousands of flight hours to come.
I pulled the plane up to the fuel pump and went through the pre-shutdown check list, then shut the plane off.
My instructor came over and asked if 1 was enough? I said "Yup, I'll have hundreds more solo landings to come, but today, one is enough."
He congratulated me and declared that now, I am officially a pilot.
As I filled the plane with fuel, he told me the story of his first solo...where he only made one of the 3 intended landings. I feel so good right now, I can't stand it!
The second person I talked to was my wife.
I called Jessica as I walked to the credit card reader to pay for the fuel, and asked her to bring a camera. She had no idea I was going to solo, but didn't seem too shocked to learn that I had.
She showed up at the airport just as I finished fueling the plane, and I ran over to her. She wasn't nearly as excited as I was, but I could tell that she was happy for me. A few photos later and the whole experience is in the past!
Now I have a lot of studying to do, and a lot of flying to get ready for my check ride, but I have done something that 99.5% of the people in this country will never be able to do.
I have flown an airplane by my self!
About 1% of Americans are hoembrewers, and about 1% of Americans provide food for the rest of the country, but only 1/2% of Americans are pilots!
I wonder what percent of American are homebrewing, farming and ranching pilots? There aren't very many, but today, there is one more!

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The adventure never stops

The adventure never stops
with the Buck Reilly series