It had been 8 weeks since the last time I was up in 34Q, which is far, far too long. During that time, she had some new goodies installed - Mainly, a Garmin 430 along with a new GPS-enabled Course Direction Indicator (CDI). However, the scheduled engine change and interior refurbishing have yet to occur. More on those later.
I hate cold weather. When it comes to being out in it, I hate it even more. But, you make sacrifices for the ones you love, especially when they have two wings, three wheels, and a prop. Preflight felt like a day hadn't gone by, and I actually didn't notice the cold wind that much. It was a fairly steady wind coming out of the northwest, so the tie-down chains were in place.
It was no time at all the two of us would shed these shackles and be free of this earth, even if only for a brief time. I asked Randy if the new engine was in, he said no, not yet, but the new parts for the interior were in the hangar and we'd take a look at them later.
Didn't miss a beat when it came to the preflight passenger briefing, even added a little extra personal touch as always. Startup was a little rough. You see, 34Q and I, we're both the same age. We're getting older, and neither one of us are a big fan of this 'Winter' business. But, after 4 tries, the engine fired, and on with the checklist. Randy showed me the ins and outs of working the radio now with the 430 (I was familiar with the GPS side of things since that portion of the Garmin units has been in Microsoft's Flight Simulators for years). Dialed in the AWOS and picked up that we had a 3,000 ceiling (that's in AGL - above ground level for those that don't know), and we'd have a 7 kt crosswind, right front quartering for runway two-seven, but the sock was nearly straight across at times.
I taxied to runway two-seven, did my runup, then made my takeoff call. We departed to the Southwest, with the intent of climbing to 3,000 MSL, which is about 2,500 AGL, the required 500 ft below the clouds. But the clouds were much lower than AWOS reported, so we leveled off at 2,500 MSL. Slow flight and steep turns were the short menu tonight, just to get me used to flying again. Slow flight felt easy for me, seemed to come naturally. Steep turns took a bit of getting used to again, but I was nailing them after a few. Comfortable I was back in the groove, we headed back to practice landings. I ended up getting 6 total landings in. Over the course of those the crosswind gradually increased to 8, then 9 by the time we parked. Number 2 was by far the best landing, but even though the others weren't as good, I still felt good about them overall, and Randy did as well.
As we're locking the hangar doors, Randy complimented me on how well I flew tonight in spite of not having flown for two months. I told him I owe a lot of that to my flight sim setup, and additionally the C172 Trainer from A2A Simulations. I briefly mentioned that its flight profile is almost spot-on with 34Q and that the approach speeds are amazingly realistic, which makes practicing landings actually beneficial and applicable in the real world. The only real difference I can see is that the A2A is a C172R and is fuel-injected, so no carb heat. Other than that, it 'feels' like I'm flying the real thing.
On the way back to the office after putting 34Q in the hangar, Randy showed me the new parts that were going in. We're not talking just some new leather and new seat covers. Oh no. The old girl is getting the entire interior replaced. ALL the paneling - side posts, ceiling, instrument panel, carpet - the works. They're doing a full restoration, nose-to-tail, new paint job included. They plan to do it sometime in February, when the weather's less favorable for flying and it's less of an inconvenience for her to be down for a few weeks again. I can't wait to see what she looks like when they're done.
Back in the office, we debriefed the flight, where he again complimented me on very little loss of skill over the two months I'd been out of the cockpit. I later pulled up a picture on my phone of my current flight sim hardware/setup, and he said it explained a lot. He didn't want to say anything while I was flying, but he could tell I'd been doing 'something' during those two months.
It felt good to know that the painstaking hours I've spent getting everything setup to where it feels 'right' and realistic have been absolutely worth it. Perhaps I'll post a pic or two in the coming days to show exactly what I've been using so others can benefit, or even offer pointers or suggestions for improvement.
Since the time has changed, and it's now dark an hour before my normal lesson time, we're now scheduling my lessons tentatively on Tuesday afternoons provided the weather cooperates. I have some vacation days left, so I'm going to use most of them for flying since I don't have any real travel plans the rest of the year. It actually works out very well. Next Tuesday is looking good. Mid 40'sF and mostly sunny. I need some back-to-back weeks of flying. Here's hoping I get them.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.
Landings - Touch-and-Go: 51
Simulated Instrument: 1.1
Dual: 19.4 Total: 19.4