Friday, August 3, 2012

What makes a great flight?

After many months of flying consisting of instrument training in the heat and turbulence of the afternoon I had the opportunity to do some evening and night flying. Each flight was special and great in its own way.

Sunday Night

Last Sunday night... I needed to get night current again because I expected to do some late evening flying this week. I went up after dark in my usual plane, 93K. It is not very well lit in the cockpit, not like 446SP. However, I was planning on flying that plane later in the week so I wanted to see just how poorly lit the cockpit was and see how well I could handle it. The flight was great. What made it great? The air was smooth and cool. The city lights glowed all around, the moon was almost full. The plane jumped into the air with more enthusiasm than the afternoon flights with CFI on board. Oh, how I flew! Just three loops in the pattern, smooth and confident, each landing better than the one before. The final landing was so sweet I stopped there. It felt so good to be back up where I belong.

Tuesday Night

Two nights later... a good friend of mine was in town and we were going to fly up to Santa Rosa for dinner. 93K was down for maintenance so the owner of the club suggested 52492 for the flight. That happened to be the same plane that inspired this blog. I hadn't flown that particular plane in over a year but that didn't bother me. We took off on the Bay Tour route and my friend remarked how smooth the air was. That surprised me, I had expected some bumps due to the heat... but no, it was very smooth. Our flight was cut short by low voltage lights on this plane. I didn't want to risk flying back at night after the battery went dead.

We completed the Bay Tour and flew back over the East Bay. The air was smooth and cool, the bay, beautiful, the moon was even brighter. We listened with great interest as a regional jet declared an emergency at Oakland airport due to a gear issue. My friend, also a pilot, complimented my light and confident touch on the controls. I even did a perfect power off landing back at the home field. Absolute heaven, enjoying a flight with a friend who understands the joy in such wonderful conditions.

Wednesday Night

My favorite plane still down for maintenance, so this time I went up in 6525D. I'm going up with a friend who is also a very experienced instrument pilot. I'm going up to do some practice ILS approaches with him as safety pilot. Purpose, knock some rust off and try to improve my tracking and scan while doing an ILS. Once again the air was smooth! My friend is a Bonanza and Baron pilot.. probably 10 years or more since he flew a 172 he said. So we flew out of the Bay Area proper and I gave him the controls so he could renew his acquaintance with 172 handling. After he said he was comfortable I put on the foggles and flew instrument for an hour. He commented how he had forgotten how good the view is from a 172.

This plane's attitude indicator and turn coordinator didn't agree - precisely - on what wings level was. If I was wings level on the attitude indicator the plane would turn right, just a bit. First ILS approach I did very poorly on track and glide slope. Second approach was slightly better, I figured out what wings level in THIS plane was. Third approach, kept the wings level and increased the frequency of my scan of the GPS track information. Didn't mess with the power settings... flew the approach with the needles centered. Got down to 50ft over decision altitude, took off the foggles and landed. Well even. That was an hour of instrument time and I was ready to go home.

We headed back home .. the sun was going down, the moon was full. My friend told me a good story about why it is so important to check tune and IDENTIFY any and all nav aids. Yeah, I'll be doing that from now on. The air remained smooth and we had some relaxing fun flying home. He said that I did good instrument flying, no sudden moves or "oh shit" moments. He also complimented me on my light touch on the controls and how precisely I fly.

In the end it was another great flight.. I got to improve my skills and spend time with another pilot who loves to fly.

What makes a great flight? 

Hard to say really... smooth air is nice, a beautiful view, a full moon, having my hard won skills recognized, working on improving those skills and making progress, spending time with friends that love flying as much as I do. I'm sure the characteristics of a great flight will continue to change over time. It was so SO nice to have three very enjoyable flights in a row. Back where I belong, in my element, feeling like I belong there.

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