More on that in a few.
Tonight was a good flight all the way around (well, there was one hiccup), and it actually started with my lunch break at work. Let me set this up: As I noted last week, I'd purchased a used headset with ANR (Active Noise Reduction) on eBay last Friday. I had gone home for lunch today, about 30 minutes later than usual, to fire up FSX and/or X-Plane (ended up being FSX) to practice landings. In the middle of my first pattern, the doorbell rings. I open it, and there's Dan Dan the FedEx man (long story, have known him for years) with a package for me. Cool. It's my headset. Unboxed it and plugged it in to charge. On with landing practice, then back to work.
Came home from work, practiced a few more landings, then gathered my headset up and put it in my flight bag. Off to KHNB!
Side note - I was curious whether I'd even get to fly tonight, as the POTUS is going to be in Chicago tomorrrow, and two counties west of KHNB on Friday. TFR is already in place for Chicago (just what ATC needs up there right now!), one expected for this area soon. It just so happened one of the 'Marine' helicopters landed at KHNB this afternoon (I'm told it's only Marine 'One' when POTUS is on board).
Thankfully, it didn't stick around and was long gone by the time I arrived for my lesson. No TFR necessary apparently.
I arrived at the airport, and my instructor told me to go ahead and preflight, he'd be out in a moment, 34Q is already out, still chocked.
I walk out, and a Skylane is fueling nearby. Cool. Waved to the other pilots, then proceeded to install my 'equalizer' (read: foam padded substitute for a phone book) as well as connect my new headset.
Now, I should mention, this time of year, the sun is getting pretty low in the sky this time of the evening (around 2230Z), and as a result, it's right in my face during preflight. So, to mitigate this, I have a pair of clip-on sunglasses. I debated, then decided to go ahead and equip them. I debated because when I'm flying into the sun at all, I can barely see the instruments with them on. Usually better to leave them off and deal with the sun glare. This time I didn't. Again, more on that in a bit.
Going through startup checklist, avionics on, tried out my headset first thing. No joy. No sound from the intercom, he couldn't hear me either. I was disappointed considering I did still spend a significant amount on them. I began to unhook them and ask Randy to hand me the flight school's set I'd placed in the back seat, when I realized the 5-pin connector on my cable had come loose. So I quickly re-attached it & plugged both cables back into the intercom. LOUD and clear on both ends, had to turn down the inline volume knobs right away. Activated the ANR - very, very nice! On with taxiing to the runway...
I won't go into all the details, just let me say, two planes taxied ahead of us (the Skylane being one), both using runway 27. AWOS clearly saying wind is 030 at 6, and the sock is confirming. Runway niner should have been the active. But we followed the Skylane. He took off, then just as we're finishing runup, hear a jet coming in, on downwind for, you guessed it, runway niner. Perfect. We're in his way. But, because we advised him where we were while he was in the pattern, he did something Randy said he'd never seen. After he landed on niner, he turned it around in the middle of the runway and back-taxied so we wouldn't have to go back to the other end of the runway. That's class, and mutual respect.
Uneventful takeoff, out to the practice area. Plan was to do slow flight, steep turns, then come back and work on landings. But once we got to 3,000 feet, it was clear steep turns were out. It was so hazy, we couldn't see the horizon. So, slow flight, then 5 power-off stalls. First two were kind of rough. Somewhere, somehow, I've picked up a fear of spinning the plane. I put that out of my mind and just started executing them step-by-step, nothing else, and pulled off 3 top-notch power-off stalls. Then, headed back to the airport. 4 landings with a 6 kt direct crosswind, all greasers, with the first and third preceded by go-arounds. The first go-around was initiated by Randy, the second go-around was my call. He couldn't have been happier with the landings (and my decision-making on the second go-around), and neither could I. The last two were by far the best, and they felt awesome. However, by the time we were on downwind for landing #3, it was getting dark. So dark in the cockpit in fact, I couldn't see the instruments. "We have panel lights in this thing," I asked. He fiddles with them, turns them up, & says, "That's about all we've got." I soldiered on, doing my best even though I could barely see the instruments. I'd also been barely able to see traffic entering the pattern on the other side of the runway when I was on the previous downwind.
Made landing #4 a full stop, cleared the active, on with the checklist (which I could also BARELY see), then taxied to parking just in front of the hangar, turned her around so we could push her in. Shutdown, quick 'preliminary' debrief.
It wasn't until he hopped out and headed to open the hangar door, and I finished removing my equalizer, bagged up my headset, and stepped toward the hangar that I realized. "You idiot." I still had my clip-on sunglasses attached. "Moron," I muttered to myself. Told Randy about it, we had a pretty good laugh, then he says "THAT explains why you could hardly see that traffic!" Yep. Real genius here.
As we're putting 34Q in the hangar, he tells me, by far, this was absolutely the best flight I've had since we started flying. Said he could tell right away I was in control of the aircraft, that I just had a confidence and a comfort level & that he could tell I was in command of the plane. Not that I hadn't been before, but I had a boldness and a confidence that wasn't there before. "This is my reward," he said. "When I see a pilot get here, when it all comes together at once, when this happens, I get so excited, I won't be able to sleep tonight."
We went in, debriefed the flight, mentioned soloing sometime soon, and also discussed status and questions regarding my third-class medical and eventual medical flight test to get my S.O.D.A. waiver for my vision deficit. He's going to call FSDO tomorrow and clarify a couple things. In the meantime, lesson scheduled for next Tuesday. Probably work on landings at the very least, with some steep turns practice if it's not too hazy again.
I probably won't sleep much tonight either. I'm still riding the emotional high of how good those last two landings felt.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.
Landings - Touch and Go: 46
Simulated Instrument: 1.1
Dual: 18.2 Total Time: 18.2