Sunday, February 13, 2011

FISH! Fly On!

How many times do I have to repeat a lesson before I learn it? No, I'm not really talking about learning how to fly a pattern. I know how to fly a fucking pattern. Not perfect. But I know how. I've flown 163 take offs and landings now. Lets say the first 30 or 40 were all assisted. That's still over 100 take offs and landings. Not perfect like I said, but I know it.

So, what lesson am I learning over and over? well, there are many, but the one I'm talking about right now is the lesson of futility that comes from holding myself to impossible standards. It took until the first half of January for me to finally figure out (learn? listen to my CFI?) flying the patten wasn't about being perfect. It was about fixing what's wrong. The most important part was knowing that I didn't have to be perfect. It was OK to make a mistake. Hell, what 40 year old student pilot can expect to be perfect? None. So what made me think that, after one solo, I would be perfect? That dang habit I have of holding myself to impossible standards.

Saturday was supposed to be three circuits of the pattern with my CFI. Then he gets out and I fly a number on my own, how ever many I want. It didn't quite turn out like that. Saturday was a great weather day and every pilot in the Bay Area knew it would be our last good weather day for a while with rain starting up Monday and running for a week or more on or off. In Scott's words.. the place was jamming. We delayed a bit, talking about running shoes of all things, then a couple questions I had about my prior lesson. Then we headed out.

It was very busy and the controller in the tower was not the best. He could focus on one thing at a time... he could manage the planes in the pattern... OR ... the planes in run up ... OR ... the planes on approach. So he would focus on one group for a bit and leave the rest to rot for a while, then switch and switch. He also tried to alleviate the pressures on his workload by calling turns for the planes in the pattern (in my mind this only increased the guy's workload as he tried to "fly the pattern" for the pilots). As a result, I didn't get to fly a "normal" pattern at all, but I didn't do bad. Scott didn't have to say anything aside from explaining some of the weirder requests the tower made. But I did make mistakes, and, being a good CFI, Scott pointed them out when we taxied back, but he also pointed out I did the right corrections.

We did three in the pattern, with weird situations of extended down winds and bases called by the tower, etc. I made mistakes and fixed them. After the third time Scott asked if he should get out.. and I told him I wanted to do one more for some reason.

We did one more, landed, he asked why I put in flaps that time. I said, because I was high. Yes I was high, but I was on a perfect glide slope. I had no idea how I was supposed to know the glide slope was perfect when I was high. I told him so. Look at the numbers! If the numbers are going up - descent rate is too high ... if they are going down - descent rate is too slow. I had totally forgotten to look at the numbers (or my desired touchdown point). I hadn't consciously looked at the numbers in a long time, I honestly don't remember the last time before yesterday. That got me flustered...

We did two more circuits. I watched the numbers and managed my descent rate extremely well. Even handled the bad controller and the "extended upwind" that practically put me in Fremont! The number of planes in the airspace wasn't going down. I was getting tired. We brought the plane in and parked. I also learned that, when ground says you can take the inside ramp to taxi to your parking spot "at your digression" that means basically, if someone runs into you, its not Ground Control's fault.

The other thing that was supposed to happen is after my second supervised solo I would be flying on my own this Thursday if weather permitted. So, I finish tying down the plane and Scott goes in to finish up paperwork and we talk ... he says the original plan was I would fly alone Thursday... now he wasn't sure. But he had already scheduled a check ride on top of my usual slot, and it is likely to be raining. So he didn't know what would happen. We'll check in on Wednesday.

I can't stand not having a plan for things I care about. All of the sudden, the plan, such that it was, was in question and it was because of what? my performance Saturday? my decisions? I don't know. I don't think it was my performance. He didn't have to take the controls once, didn't have to tell me what to do to get safely on the ground. My decision? well, when I didn't kick him out of the plane that certainly threw off his normal "plan". But does this mean I shouldn't fly alone? I don't think that's what it means.. he wouldn't have signed me off for solo if he didn't think I can fly alone - safely. I think it means he's not sure I will want to fly alone and since he's got a check ride on schedule.... ... ... what? ...

I left the lesson almost shattered. I was embarrassed, ashamed even. I didn't want to see or talk to anyone. Time to drive up to the race track for the race event... I cried on the way to the track. I felt like a complete and utter failure. I didn't do my second supervised solo. I didn't know what would happen the next time I was scheduled to fly. I made mistakes and forgot a key thing about flying the pattern. I didn't know if my CFI had lost confidence in me or if he didn't know if I lost confidence in myself. I dreaded seeing my friends at the track, many many of them knew I soloed. I new they would want to congratulate me and I felt like such a failure for not soloing again that I didn't want to face them. I got to the track and hid. But I tried to call my brother who I hadn't talked to in forever. He wasn't home, but he called me back.

I talked to him and he could tell I was extremely upset. I talked to him about flying.. about how great and easy it was to solo. The complex and ever changing dance of flying. About how its like performing a complex dance with a different partner, on a different surface, to different music with a different style every time around. How wonderful and beautiful and dynamic it is. Then I talked about how I struggled so much with it until I realized I was trying to be perfect and holding myself to an impossible standard when all I had to do was be able to fix things.

My brother, trained psychologist that he is, stopped me there. "You mean like you are doing right now?" he said. That stopped me cold. "You are acting like a marathoner who just ran a PR and is upset that you didn't run another PR a week later. You just soloed. That's a PR. You know better than to expect a PR every day, that's why they are PRs!!" I laughed... a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. "Damn you're good!" I said. He chuckled and said, "That's why they pay me to do this stuff."

We talked a bit more about flying.. then about running, then shopping for cars, children and life. It was awesome. As we talked I was pacing around the paddock, my friends spotted me and they would come up and give me a big hug and congratulations. And I didn't feel bad. My friends didn't care if I soloed again that day.. they were just very very happy for me to have soloed at all. They knew how big that accomplishment was, even if I had already forgotten. I am so grateful to have my brother and my friends. We had a great evening.

So, what did I learn from Saturday's flight lesson and life lesson?
  1. Look at the desired touch down point on final to gauge glide slope.
  2. I have no right or reason to expect to be perfect
  3. It is OK not to be perfect
  4. I should not hold myself to impossible standards, because I'll never succeed that way. It has never worked for me in life, and it won't work for me in flying.

What do I do about my next "lesson" or scheduled flight time or whatever? Well, assuming the weather is good enough for me to fly. If I am given the option I will fly solo. I'm not going to get any better flying with my CFI over and over and beating myself up for not being perfect. (It is very easy to do that with my CFI, he will always offer constructive criticism along with the compliments on jobs well done, being me, I tend to filter the compliments *sigh*) It is time to stretch my wings and learn on my own a bit. If I'm not given the option, then I'm not. But the next time I am, I will take that option. I should have done that Saturday, that was my biggest mistake. But life goes on.

You may be wondering about the title of this blog entry by now... my friend in race control told me today about this sticker she saw on the dash of a professional race car one day... the dashboard sticker read: "FISH DRIVE ON". That was strange... so she found the driver and asked him what that means. "FISH", he said, "means Fuck It Shit Happens". Thus FISH DRIVE ON. A funny story, and so apropos to my situation. So my note to self.. and to be on a sticky note on the panel next time I fly... FISH! Fly On!

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