Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Evolution of Understanding

It's been a while since I last posted... I'm sure my IR's are distraught wondering what is going on in my flight training!

I've had three flight lessons since my last post. Two were really good. The last one I was "pitchy" but I know why :) Proof, my CFI says, that no one can improve at the same rate EVERY day. Yeah, yeah, he's right. But lets talk about the really good lessons. Why were they really good? my understanding of what my CFI's been telling me has evolved to the point where I am beginning to understand what he means!

Sorta funny how it happened really... one lesson, 5 flights ago, I had a very frustrating time trying to get this "flying the pattern" thing right. I just couldn't do it right.. things kept being wrong and I kept getting upset about it. I don't remember the debrief that day... I think it was something about if he could make it any simpler he would, but he can't... or something like that. I felt stuck, like I'd never progress. So I went home and wrote down everything I knew about flying the pattern. Then the next morning I made a whole document with everything I knew about flying the pattern, what to look for, what the plane will do, etc. etc. Everything. Two days later I was done. I sent it to my CFI for his review. I figured I must be missing something and if I wrote everything I knew down, he could review it and tell me what I was missing.

Next lesson, in our before flight briefing... he asks if I have any questions... I say, just tell me what I'm missing in this document. And he says he looked it over briefly but he isn't going to review it in depth because he knows I know everything he's taught me about flying the pattern. He'd seen me demonstrate every skill required. He said I knew how to do it, I knew what it looked like when it was wrong, what I needed to do was work on fixing it when its wrong. He also pointed out he wouldn't be able to fly a perfect pattern either 999,999 times out of 1,000,000.

That lesson was frustrating yet again, just couldn't get "it" right. Post flight briefing... I am to focus on the fixing of when its wrong, think about that he says. He also gave me a brief lecture on what "stare at the end of the runway" means. Driving home I was pissed. "What do you mean I know everything I need to know? If I do, why can't I do it right?! WTF?" For the first time I actually wanted to cancel my next flight. I didn't.. but the weather canceled for me. But I think the extra time "off" gave me time to finally internalize what he was trying to tell me that day.

After fuming for a day, I went obediently about my task... think about how to fix it when its wrong. I made little flash cards with each way I've messed up in the pattern (so many ways) and for each wrote down on the other side, how to fix it. Sometimes there is just one option, sometimes there were several. I made notes of the situations I wasn't sure what the fix was for my round of questions for my next flight lesson.

Later I was thinking about landing and staying on the center line and how to fix it. The thought crossed my mind, its like dancing on the edge. A process of constant small adjustments to manage what the winds and the plane are doing and where you put the plane. That reminded me of the song "Dancing on the Edge" by Concrete Blonde. I found the song and put it on and listened to it a lot that day.

Later I was thinking about how I finally figured out "trim for takeoff" didn't mean put the trim wheel at the "takeoff" mark that Cessna put near the trim wheel. It meant putting the trim wheel where it needed to be for a Vy climb with the current weight in the plane. Which meant it was NOT at the mark Cessna put there. It took me months to figure that out. I wondered what else I wasn't getting. Like "stare at the end of the runway". I resolved to really STARE at the end of the runway, the way my CFI described it. What does "if it ain't right fix it" really mean? Maybe it doesn't mean don't let it be wrong. Maybe it really means, recognize and fix it quick, and be calm and don't be unhappy about being wrong. "Close isn't good enough" doesn't mean its not OK to not be perfect. It means if there's something wrong don't just leave it wrong, fix it. I resolved... next lesson I would listen VERY carefully to what my CFI said and instead of worrying about being right focus on fixing it.

My next lesson was my birthday. I hoped REALLY hoped that I would have a good flight. I went out and had my best flight yet.... not that I got everything right, not at all, but instead I recognized when it was wrong relatively quickly and fixed it. I flew my best patterns ever. Recognizing and fixing quickly was key, that kept the errors from getting too big. And the landings! That I was doing right... I was looking at the end of the runway, and danced on that edge. What a difference a new understanding made.

My next lesson was emergency procedures... I didn't get everything right. I certainly hope I don't have an engine failure, but if I do, I know what to do now. And, in the practice I didn't obsess over what I did wrong. The lesson after that, my most recent lesson, not so good (aside from my landings when I wasn't too high) ... I wasn't maintaining Vy pitch on takeoff and I got fixated on the air speed indicator I chased it like I hadn't chased it in months... just couldn't get it right. *sigh* He covered the damn thing with a sticky note and my last time around the pattern was very good. Another thing to add to my little stack of flash cards about fixes.... if I can't seem to control air speed no matter what I do the fix is, stop chasing the airspeed indicator and use pitch. I also need to recognize more quickly when I'm too low.

I'm getting there, it is so much less pressure to simply recognize when its not right and fix it rather than holding myself to being perfect all the time. I'm listening more closely to what I'm being told now too. And yes, I do know everything I need to know, now the pieces just need to come together consistently.

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