Thursday, October 27, 2011

I think it was the seat belt

In the words of my CFI, quoted by another of his students who got his pilot's license recently,
I never taught you to land an airplane...  Eyes at the end of the runway and don't let it land.
 When my former student pilot friend pointed that out to me, it finally clicked. I've been trying to land since I was first shown soft field landings, shortly after I solo'd. I have been getting worse and worse at landing, trying to land. It shows up the most on soft field landings for me because you have to land in a particular way, softly, with the nose up off the ground. I can do short field landings no problem, because there is no time to try to land, you just set up, round out and *plunk* you're on the ground. 

I've never been taught how to land.. I've been taught how to fly a pattern, a stabilized approach, power off approach usually, and hold the plane off the runway 'til it settles to the ground on its own. No wonder I suck at landing. Given that thought, I determined to not try to land next time.

My next flight my CFI and I decided to do another mock checkride. I wanted to go through all maneuvers. When we went out to the plane there were bees on it, very interested bees. I was concerned they may try to get into the cockpit with us. So when I got into the plane I immediately closed the door, at which point I figured out I had sat on my seat belt. *sigh* Well, I decided this time I wasn't going to let it throw me off. One very minor misstep was not going to stop me on this flight. I picked my butt up off the seat, opened the door, pulled out the seat belt and didn't worry about the bees. I just went through my normal start up and got going.

You may be wondering, did the realization about landing help? Yeah.. I think it did. I really do.  I didn't land the soft field landing (my nemesis) because we landed at Tracy (KTCY) on runway 30, which, being 100' wide sucked me into an illusion of being lower than I was so I flared early (KRHV's runways are only 75' wide) In spite of the fact that I dropped the plane on the runway down because of flaring too early... I kept flying the whole way.  That was a big improvement.

After that we came back around on 26 and did a crosswind landing. The winds were 310 at 10 gusting higher. My pattern was really bad, but I did a crosswind landing... I wasn't thinking about landing, I was focused on keeping the plane aligned with the runway come hell or high water. I had the rudder to the stop to do it too. The landing wasn't super smooth and I was slightly off the centerline when I touched down. My CFI just said, "Stop the plane." .. right there on the runway. So I put the plane back on the centerline and stopped.  I thought I must have screwed something else up. He proceeded to spend a couple minutes (it seemed) saying what a fantastic landing that was. How that was what he was looking for for the last six months!

Overall I did well on some stuff, but kept messing up in the pattern at the Tracy airport.. the strong crosswinds kept blowing me off course, I kept forgetting to look for a target to turn to. I had 900 ft on the brain when pattern altitude was 993 ft (almost 1000) so I went over 100' out of tolerance there. I would have busted on that. So on one hand, I screwed up a lot. On the other hand, my CFI pointed out, this time, instead of getting all frustrated and giving up, crying or blowing up at him (I've done all 3 at different times before) I just got more determined to fix it.

We did simulated instrument on the way back to our home base ... and it was relatively turbulent over the hills between Calaveras and Tracy. That was hard. It was much more disturbing to be bouncing around without anything but instruments to keep the plane straight and level or turning, etc. However, I kept it to spec. He said that experience was much more like real instrument conditions rather than what its like when its calm (which is pretty easy for me).

When we came back in to land at RHV I screwed up the short field landing, just a bit. But it wasn't a screw up because I was trying to land.. it was a misjudgement of the power I needed to reach the touchdown point. I had to add a bit of power just before touch down, got distracted and landed awkwardly. I could have pulled it off, but I jumped on the brakes instead of putting up the flaps first. That bothered me a bit, but I know I can do that landing right.

On the taxi back to parking my CFI was very generous with his positive critique of my flying. Not of the flight itself - I would have failed the check ride many times over. But of my cross wind landing and my attitude... how I didn't get frustrated and quit. I got frustrated and got better and more stubborn about making it right. He said if I could just bottle up whatever it was that I did that day and that way, I would be the pilot I could be.

I thought about it more that day.. and the following night.. and today. I've been high on what happened, I think its a breakthrough of sorts. And I think I know what it was that made the change of attitude happen. I think it was the seat belt. The training flight before this one, I had problems with the seat belt, and I let it just snowball and get worse and worse. This time the same seat belt bothered me, but I decided right there, I wasn't going to let it make my day bad. I think, perhaps, that decision flowed over the entire flight. If I can keep that attitude, I believe I really will be the pilot I can be.

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