Saturday, March 29, 2014

Still Holding

You can say I entered this particular holding pattern via a teardrop entry. Many tears were shed before I entered this hold. But in any case, I'm still holding now. This is my third trip around the hold, waiting for my re-test. Since my last post the re-test has been scheduled and delayed due to weather twice. It is now rescheduled for after I get back from a week vacation with two of my brothers. It will be great to get away and hopefully, soon, close this chapter of my flying story and start writing the next.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

500 Hours

The 500th Hour

Me at 500 hours
My 500th hour of flight turned out to be three different flights.

The first portion of my 500th hour was flying to Reid-Hillview on a return from a 12 person fly-in at San Luis Obispo airport for lunch. A friend of mine joined me for the flight to and from San Luis Obispo and we had a great time. The ramp there was packed with planes and we had great company and good food.

The second portion of my 500th hour was the following Monday morning where I took my husband in the plane with me to demonstrate two Power Off 180s. Flying with my husband can stress me out and I have tended to do poorly with him in the plane. Especially landings. Though recently that hasn't been the case as much. In any event, I wanted him to ride with me and to be as annoying to me as only a loved one can be so he could be a "stress test" for my Power Off 180 abilities. Could I nail two Power Off 180s with him in the plane? If I could that would be a positive sign.

We taxied out with calm winds on the ATIS and I requested my now standard "two short approaches" from the tower. The first landing I did was a bit longer than the standard my CFI has me flying to, but well within the PTS spec. The second one was about 10' short of my intended mark but 30' beyond the threshold, which was my 0' mark. Also well within spec. With that I parked the plane with 0.3 on the hobbs. Stress test completed and passed.

My plan for the 3rd portion of my 500th hour was to fly with my CFI that afternoon and do 4 more short approaches, 2 on the left and 2 on the right. If those four went well, all within spec, then I would feel confident to be signed off again for a re-test of that one maneuver.

That flight didn't go as planned. The winds were at 17 knots with some major up and down drafts. My CFI saw we were getting 1700 fpm climb rate out of a plane that does a best climb of 900 fpm typically. To complicate things further it seemed everyone wanted to do pattern work at the same time. We saw two planed struggle greatly to complete safe landings in those conditions. To top it off, 31R was closed because they were mowing the grass near 31R and the mower ran out of gas.

We tried anyway and got in one go around, one successful short approach (I was sent right traffic for 31L and managed to stick a power off approach anyway), one complete circuit of the pattern at pattern altitude and then got sent almost out of RHV airspace on downwind because of all of the traffic in the pattern. We decided it was not to be and brought the plane back in.

That was the end of my 500th hour of flight. I was stressed because I didn't have the flight I wanted to reconfirm to myself that I could do these power off 180s successfully all the time. My CFI was ready to sign me off, but I wasn't ready. True, I have, for some time now, been able to land a power off 180's not only within the PTS spec but within his spec. His spec was landing +/- 25 feet of a spot. But every once in a rare while I would do a go around because I would give up on an approach rather than make it happen. He told me to think about it and went up with another student. When he got back I told him I wanted to have 10 power off 180s all within PTS spec, straight, in my logbook before I would let him sign me off. Not counting the flight in the gusty winds I did that day. I looked back in my logbook and realized that meant I only needed two more landings to make it 10 straight.

Working on 501

So my plan was to go up today and do two more power off 180s with a target of being within his spec, not just the PTS spec. I did my work and then during lunch drove to the flight club for a quick flight (I have gotten to the point it only takes me 0.3 on the hobbs or 18 minutes, key on to key off to do two circuits of the pattern and two landings.) I told myself if I screwed up either one of these landings I would restart the 10 landings clock. If I did it well. I would let my CFI sign me off. Finally, if the winds remained reasonable I'd do my re-test today.

The winds weren't reasonable but I did my two power off 180s anyway. The first one I landed between the threshold and the letters in spite of a strong downdraft on short final. (Within my 25' of desired spot spec). The tower reported winds at 310@10 for that one. I turned that landing into a touch and go and took off again. The tower told me if I could keep it tight they could clear me for the 2nd short approach in a row. So I turned crosswind quickly and was cleared for a short approach. This one was for all the marbles. The winds were now reported 340@11, a 30 degree direction change in less than 5 minutes. I glided in for a nice cross wind landing within feet of my desired spot. With that I was satisfied.

I pushed the plane back into its parking spot and my CFI popped up and asked me what I decided. I told him he could sign me off but I wouldn't be going up for a re-test today. The winds were just too unpredictable for me to risk my one chance to pass the test. He endorsed my log book for my second re-test later the same day... he added a subscript to his endorsement "(This time I really mean it!)" We both laughed at that.

It's been less than a month since my check ride and I've gone through the crushing heart break of failing a check ride not only once but twice, through a crash course in "how to really fly a plane", to being able to not only do Power Off 180s but to landing Power Off 180s within 25 feet of a given spot. I am even able to laugh about my previous pain.  Oh, trust me, I fear failing again deeply. But I know I am 200% more the pilot now than I used to be. I've learned more about how to fly and handle a plane and what it does and doesn't do and how to use its characteristics to get what I want out of it and even more important, how to do all of that without thinking about it, in the last month than I have in my whole flying career to date. It has not been an easy road but its worth it.

In case you're wondering, no, I don't have my re-test scheduled yet. And no, no one but my CFI, the DPE, my husband and daughter will know when I go up until after I pass. :) But suffice it to say, I want it done as soon as possible!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Itch

You ever feel that feeling? It's like an almost imperceptible itch just under your skin. If you could locate it, maybe it would be located in the center of your back, or the base of your spine, or in your heart. Yeah, most likely in your heart. 

Your eyes stare at the monitor but instead of a screen you recall how green the grass around the runway was. Or how pretty the clouds you were flying next to and under a couple days before looked like. Or how much you wanted to fly in those clouds but you were working on other things that day. You sniff the smell of oil and avgas. Feel the vibration of the prop makes through your feet when you pull it back to 2500 RPM. Hear the sound of the air flowing by the plane a bit slower when you glide, power off, towards the runway with the gear horn screaming as you wait for just the right moment to put the gear down.

Then you blink and you're back in your cubical, staring at an email or a PowerPoint presentation about whatever it is you do during the majority of your day. You sip lukewarm coffee and listen to the discussions of your colleagues. The itch squirms under your skin and all you want to do is get back up in the air, where you belong.

I must be returning to my normal self... I've got the itch. Bad.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

No Rain, No Rainbows

Its been a week to the day since my last attempted check ride. I've flown once since then. That was my trip to Castle AFB with my daughter and friend. Aside from that I've avoided the airport and been giving myself time to process the events of the previous weekend before I attempt to go back up again and work on the power off 180.

I had a brief chat with my CFI who has a plan for ensuring I will pass next time. Friends on one of the aviation forums I participate in have shown me a ton of support. I've even emailed with a couple other CFIs who all believe I will be successful next time. I've spent a lot of time getting work caught up, maybe even a bit ahead. I've been running more and spending time with my husband (who just got back from a month long business trip on Sunday) and daughter. I was lucky enough to see one of my brothers who was in town for business too. 

It was very good for me to get away for a while. Good to let my emotions run their course and get myself back to normal.  My dreams have returned to normal instead of replaying that one flight over and over again. I feel ready to return to the task at hand. I'm scheduled for a series of flights with my CFI next week.

This morning I went for a long run in the rain with some friends. As we returned to the start a rainbow appeared and, I swear, the end of the rainbow pointed to my home airport. That reminded me of that saying. No rain, no rainbows. I've had my rain. I am looking forward to the rainbows. I do believe things happen for a reason. The rain may be the check ride failures. The rainbow will be me gaining a new level of skill performing difficult maneuver that may save my life some day.