Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bounce Back

"I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

Funny how messages show up in your life when you need them most. This quote was on my phone when I woke up yesterday morning. Which was good, because I was feeling like a failure and expecting to fail again. I was planning on doing the flight my CFI recommended that evening and not sure what result I would get. The only thing I was sure about was, if I sucked as bad as I had previously I would be taking a couple weeks off. The ego could only take so many blows before it had to have a break and my flying ego was pretty battered. 

Before I went out to the airport I heard great news from my husband and bad news about my daughter. My emotions seemed to cancel themselves out when I went out preflight the plane. I went through the process of inspecting and preparing the plane for the flight. It was getting late so I made sure the lights were working too. Preflight always soothes me and focuses my mind on the task at hand. Checklists help with that too. Going through those familiar steps, making sure each is done, helps me center at the worst of times. And, while I wasn't feeling my most confident, I recalled this was far from the worst of times. 

I got some help pushing the heavy plane uphill out of it's parking spot and settled in to the right seat. As I taxied by the "instructors bench", a place where there used to be a bench that flight instructors would sit on as they watched their students on their first solo, I recognized one of the CFIs sitting there. I waved and he waved back. It reminded me of a day, before I got my private certificate, that I was doing pattern work solo and my CFI was in this same plane instructing the CFI sitting at the bench for HIS initial CFI. I smiled. 

I requested a downwind departure and headed for South County airport. I figured if I was going to practice takeoffs and landings I didn't want anyone to see it if it went poorly. I didn't know what to expect on this flight, so I planned to just fly the first pattern as normal and see what happened. I was distracted on the downwind looking for traffic that was in the pattern and forgot to put down the gear until I was abeam the numbers. That threw me off a bit but I came in for a good landing, on the centerline. Which was something I'd been struggling with since I moved to the right seat. 

My next time around also resulted in a nice landing - on the centerline and on the numbers. I noticed I needed to add power on short final as I usually did so I decided I'd see what I needed to do to fix that next time around. I decided to talk through my next pattern and see if I could talk and land at the same time. I did that and on the next pattern I decided instead of reducing power to get on glide slope, I'd be OK with being above glide slope as long as my aim point wasn't moving up or down on the windscreen. I talked about that to myself and found I only had to add a tiny bit of power. 

Next time around I did even more talking, explaining some of the process in addition to the procedure. I was especially careful on final and used my aim point as the primary measure of my glide slope. As I talked and explained to myself why I was doing that I had a very nice stabilized approach all the way down to land on the numbers, didn't have to add any power at all. On the take offs I was more ruthless with myself about the moment of rotation, making sure I didn't rotate until the plane was ready to take off and ensuring I stayed right over the centerline the whole time. Each landing improved over the previous one. I started working on really fine tuning my approaches and being REALLY on the centerline for all of final. 

I did 6 takeoffs and landings at South County and decided to head back to Reid Hillview. It was getting darker and my landings and pattern were almost perfect as far as I could tell. If not perfect, 200% better than the prior two months. When I came into RHV on the straight in approach I used the same procedure to manage my glide slope and landed a very nice commercial grade crosswind landing back at the home airport. 

I was very pleased. I still am. Maybe I am bouncing out of the plateau? Who knows... but that was a major improvement over my previous flights by far. So I'm not canceling my next lesson and I'll find out if I can duplicate the result with my CFI in the plane. At least now I have hope that I can. 

Thanks, Michael Jordan, for explaining how one of the keys to success is failure! 

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