29R - Nothing but blue skies...

Weather: KBJC 211150Z 00000KT 20SM SKC 21/03 A3008

Today was a day to practice pattern work, takeoffs and landings, and get ready for my solo flight. Right now I am really good from the parking spot, to the ramp, to takeoff, through final (and all my maneuvers in between). That takes me to about the flare. I am even getting good at reading when to flare. But at this point, I flare a bit too hard, so instead of holding it and gently drifting down, I apply too much back pressure and come up a bit. I might still be flaring a bit high too. Then I get the addition of the ground effect and that keeps me a bit high. So I end up gliding over the runway longer than I intend. But then instead of holding the controls, I try to relax them, to get the plane down. That’s when I bounce. Now I’m back in the air again. So I work the controls again to come down easy, and end up over correcting and over controlling the plane. That’s when I bounce. Again. Repeat steps 1 -3. Bounce. Again. Rinse. Repeat.

That gets a bit tedious after 10 landings in one day. I didn’t bounce all of them. Just most of them. The positives: my pattern work is very good. I’m very good with the radios. My approach is getting really good. My takeoffs are really good. I think I just needed to get today out of my system. I did have a couple good landings. Not everything went bad today. I was just hoping to really nail a few so I could be one lesson closer to my solo.

While drinking (responsibly) this weekend, I came across a wonderfully inspirational item. I was sipping on the delicious Full Sail - LTD 02 beer. After removing the bottle cap, on the underside of the cap, I noticed that “LIVE THE DREAM” was printed. Such a prodding inspirational directive while sipping on a delicious brew is quite wonderful in and of itself, however it got me to thinking for a quick second. Now that I have started flying, I am working my way towards living my dream. Of course that is the entire reason I started flying, but to realize in clear moment, that I am truly working towards living a dream that I have had since I was scarcely 3 feet tall, is great. It really made me feel good about what I am doing. Living the dream is something that people often talk about, but mostly talk about how they wish they were doing it, not how they are doing it, or are working towards doing it. So to realize that I’m working towards living my dream makes me feel pretty good.

Here is where I have to give huge thanks to my wonderful wife. Without her support in this, I wouldn’t be working towards this right now. The time it takes to learn how to fly, coupled with working my current job, really takes away from the time I have to do other things. The time commitment is a big thing right there. The other really big thing is money. Flying is not cheap. Let me say that again. Flying is not cheap. (I’ll write and post more about that someday.) So even though I am still working, the amount of money required to fly is ridiculous. Her decision to support me working (and spending) my way towards living my dream is a huge commitment by her. I’m sure it’s hard enough living with me normally, but the extra pressures that this kind of thing puts on a relationship is no fun. But she’s great and I can’t thank her enough for supporting me.

Weather: KDEN 141153Z 22003KT 10SM FEW090 BKN140 BKN200 22/11 A3016

Nothing of great interest after today’s lesson. More practice and I’m definitely seeing improvement in my flying. Wait, there is one thing. Definitely the greatest flying day I’ve yet had.

Today, I landed. All by myself. Let me tell you about it.

After practicing go-arounds and pattern work up at LMO (Longmont’s Airport), I was getting very comfortable with flying the pattern and basically flying it all the way in until the flare. So on our way back to BJC I was making all the radio calls (which I was pretty proud of, especially since there was a lot of traffic), and getting into the pattern. Nothing was perfectly flown after I completed my downwind. The base leg wasn’t great, but not terrible. The final wasn’t too bad. I was able to keep us lined up with the runway (mostly), I kept the airspeed at 65. When she said we were a bit high, I dropped some power. When we got a bit low, I added some. About 100 yards or so from the end of the runway, I heard her call that we were “landing assured”. That means that you are going to be landing on the runway as long as you don’t make any drastic moves. So I cut the throttle to idle after that and watched us approach the runway. That’s when I dropped that plane like a rock. I flared a bit high, so we glided beautifully across the runway about 3 feet too high. My instructor called to add a bit of power, but I was too focused. Too many things going on at once. Once the plane finished flaring, the last 3 feet of runway came really fast. The plane slammed down, bounced and then settled on the runway.

Now you might be thinking, “Pete, don’t be so hard on yourself for the first landing. It probably wasn’t that bad.” First of all, I’m very proud of that landing. But second, it was pretty bad. It was hard enough that once we were taxiing my instructor checked to see that our ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter) was going off. See if you land hard enough, it thinks you’ve crashed, and it will automatically send an emergency signal to rescue crews. So it was hard enough that she wanted to make sure it wasn’t going off. But knowing that now, I can takeoff, fly, and land, it feels like quite an accomplishment.

Weather: KBJC 121350Z 32006KT 60SM SCT080 23/09 A3029

Fear is a necessity. Without a bit of fear every now and again, I seem to develop an unhealthy hubris; a comfort that takes away my concentration. I relax my guard too much. Due diligence takes a back seat in situations where it should always stay in the forefront. I have not yet lost my fear while flying, however I did plan on writing a quick note about how easy it seams to fly. Generally this is true too. In the right conditions, the plane flies itself. It’s designed to fly. But I have to concentrate a great deal while flying to make sure everything is going well. I don’t want to lose that concentration. A bit of fear every now and again helps.

Today I was practicing a power on stall (I have done this before). With full power, I have to add quite a bit of right rudder to keep the plane straight. So I nose up and finally get the plane to stall. The controls get soft and the plane starts to fall. I relax the back pressure to level out and I’m not paying attention to how much right rudder I have in. So as the plane starts to level, the rudder puts us into a hard right turn and it feels like the plane is basically slipping sideways out of the sky. I got that great feeling you get when you’re falling on a roller coaster, where your stomach drops out. But it was much more disconcerting because I wasn’t sure what was going on. I quickly recovered from both the stall and the right turn, but for a moment, there was a definite moment of fear.

It’s good to know that you can recover from something like that, and that I was able to do it successfully. It really wasn’t very dangerous, just a bit shocking. Moments like that keep my over-confidence in check but also help me affirm my skill. So I practiced one more stall to PTS and gave myself a quick pat on the back.

My goal while flying should be constant vigilance.

Weather: KBJC 091258Z 00000KT 60SM BKN120 19/08 A3018

Wow! I still can’t believe I’m actually learning how to fly. Wait. I can fly already. I just can’t really fly well… or land. Anyhow, learning how to fly well. Things are great. There is little better way to remedy waking up at 5 am, than going flying at 6 am. I can’t think of a better way to start my morning. I can ride this high halfway through the day before I realize how much my current job sucks.

Today’s takeoff, another good one, unassisted. Today’s landing was much improved. I only had to operate the control wheel, instructor on the throttle. My main focus was keeping the airspeed at 65 KTS while keeping us lined up with the runway. It seems relatively simple. It should be relatively simple. I didn’t screw it up too badly. Nice work, Pete.

It wasn’t a smooth approach, so that didn’t help me keep things in line, but I did a good job staying on course and keeping airspeed constant. Always nice to see improvement. I’m still trying to ingrain my understanding of controlling airspeed with pitch, and altitude with throttle. I think my approaches will greatly improve once that is more reactionary than conscious. I take too long to put it all together and by that time I’ve already screwed another landing.

One more thing. Steep turns = Fun!

Weather: KBJC 071155Z 33010KT 25SM SCT150 BKN250 19/13 A3002

Another beautiful day in the air. The flight started off wonderfully as I had full control of the plane from it’s parking spot at the school to until we were cruising. As this was my first unassisted take-off, it felt pretty good. It’s nice to know you can fly a plane all by yourself if you had to, (we’ll get to that landing part later.) I did some quick flying with the “foggles” on. They are just glasses that obscure the windows, leaving only the instruments visible. Basic instrument flying wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t as fun as getting to look around and it’s definitely a different kind of flying. Fortunately that was quick and I got to get into the good part of the lesson, some more slow flight and some stalls.

Stalling an airplane has a very bad connotation to me. It has always sounded dangerous and something that should only be practiced under extreme supervision, so I was very interested to see what this lesson was going to be about. Turns out, stalling the airplane in the conditions I was flying is actually pretty difficult in the first place, and a lot easier to recover from that I thought (at least a basic stall.) So power-on and off stalls complete, it was time for me to head back to the airport. Time to land the plane.

I felt comfortable flying the approach before I got into the pattern and flew the entrance and downwind well. The base leg was a bit off (not quite sure what went wrong, it felt good) and set me up for a rough final. I think I came into final a bit high and wide. I should have gotten lined up with the center of the runway first, and then dealt with my altitude and airspeed, but I was trying to fix everything at once and the path of my plane probably looked like a corkscrew as I brought it in. With about 100 yards to go, my instructor took the controls and brought it in for a hard landing. The landing wasn’t that hard by my standards (I’m sure I can do worse), but was by hers. I think she probably could have landed better given the flight path, but I definitely have to take my share of the credit for setting us for a less than perfect approach.

Next time I’ll work on taking the controls for the duration of the flight. We still have some work to do on the landings. Let’s not introduce a crosswind just yet.

Lesson #2

Weather: 021053Z 16005KT 10SM FEW040 SCT090 BKN120 16/13

Today’s lesson was much better than the first. The flying is still great. The feeling of flying is so different than anything else, and when you get to fly from the front seat, it’s really amazing. Flying commercially, looking out the side window of an airplane is enjoyable to me, but sitting in the front seat, watching ground disappear below the nose of the plane and the sky rise in front of you, that is just fantastic.

This lesson was noticeable more relaxing than the first. I tried to focus more, but found it easier to focus realizing how much I had learned and retained from my first lesson. Everything came easier but I wasn’t stressed about needing to remember and get it right the first time.

Again more turns, climbs and descents. Also in this lesson, learning how to fly the plane with the flaps down and the effects it has on the plane. When the lesson was over this time, all I wanted to do was get back in the plane and keep practicing. It’s just too much fun flying. An hour in the plane feels like only 15 minutes.

Now is probably also a good time to compare flying and driving. After my lessons it’s pretty quick between flying and getting in the car to go to work. Driving is such a different experience than flying. You are so focused on the external factors while driving (traffic, traffic lights, where the road is going, etc.) Right now when I fly, I’m so focused on altitude, attitude, trim, direction, etc. It’s very cockpit centric right now. Not that I’m not looking for other planes and outside, but it is very different.

And I did get a bit more sleep last night than before my first flight, but not too much. Hopefully I’ll start getting full nights of sleep before I fly, this is getting pretty exhausting when the afternoon rolls around.

KBJC 311150Z 36006KT 15SM FEW150 18/10

As I expected, last nights sleep was bad. Constant thoughts of everything flying kept me in a very restless sleep all night. It’s difficult to just relax and sleep when your mind is trying to focus on multiple things at the same time.

I took a discovery flight 6 months ago and it was an amazing experience. Just flying for the joy and entertainment of it made the flight relaxing and fun. My only goal was to find out if I enjoyed flying enough to pursue it as a career. Yes. Check that off the list, enjoy the flight.

Fast forward to today. First flying lesson. The lesson part of things implies some learning taking place. As a part of my goal to be a great pilot, yet keep the cost of getting my license down, I want to learn as much as possible, as fast as possible. The first lesson was fun, full of new things, and nearly overwhelming. The pace was good and the right amount of material was introduced, but I think I over exerted myself. With so much new information, it’s basically impossible to take it all in and internalize it in the first lesson, but that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t consciously realize that’s what I was doing until I was on the ground again. I was nearly exhausted and realized I wasn’t relaxed the entire time I was flying (not to say it wasn’t fun, or that I didn’t learn a whole lot). It’s difficult to just relax and fly when your mind is trying to focus on multiple things at the same time.

The flight went well though. Perfectly clear skies and no turbulence. Practiced basic turning, level flight, climbs and descents (with turns and without), take-offs and landings. Did a touch and go, that was fun. The biggest lesson learned though is that I need to focus on learning one thing at a time. It will all come eventually, but without that focus, I don’t end up learning anything well. Lesson #2 on Thursday.



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