I took the last 2 days of 2014 as my last 2 vacation days for the year, mainly in hopes that somewhere in those 2 days I'd get some time in the air. I texted Randy Tuesday morning asking if there was any chance of flying that day or the next, letting him know I was available the entirety of both days. I didn't get a response by early evening and assumed he was away for the holidays.
Around 18:30 local I got a text asking if 15:00 local the next day would work. Of course it will work (see reference to pizza in an earlier blog post).
The next day I didn't get in a hurry to do anything. A little online gaming with a friend to pass the time, then a few warmup circuits in FSX Steam Edition, then ate some lunch.
About 2 hours before flight time I decided to get in the shower, but before I could even turn the water on, my phone rang. It was Randy. I'd just checked the METAR. Solid VFR conditions, and TAF for a nearby airport was excellent all day. "Great. What's broken or getting installed on 34Q this time?" I thought. I really shouldn't be so cynical, but it's been the status quo for this plane lately. Plus it's been 5 weeks again since I've been up, and I'm a little depressed about it to be honest.
Surprisingly, it was good news, which I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice. Turns out his previous cross country solo had returned early, and he was available any time.
Quickest. Shower. Ever.
45 minutes later we were shaking hands and heading to the hangar, a full hour earlier than planned. I needed a good break like this for a change. While 34Q was still in the (warm) hangar, I checked out my headset to see if the repairs I'd done had fixed it (last flight the microphone wasn't working so I had to use the passive reduction David Clark set in the plane). I'd replaced the microphone and mic boom with parts I ordered from the manufacturer. A quick test confirmed the headset was working better than before. This was a relief - much better to have spent $80 USD on repairs than another $475 for a replacement of this model, which is the Pilot PA1779 recommended by my ENT doc.
I did my preflight, and missed one thing on the walkaround. And, of course, it would be the one major thing that is flaky on 34Q right now - the nosewheel strut. I'd noticed in my last flight on 11/25 that it was more compressed than it should have been - 2 fingers clearance instead of 3. Apparently this was a prelude to needing rebuilt, which was supposed to have been done this morning, and I was the lucky student to get to taxi with it in this condition on what would end up being the last flight before it HAD to be rebuilt.
I get in, going through the rest of the pre and post-startup checklist, I notice even though we're facing 090 that the magnetic compass is 10° off. Not the heading indicator, the magnetic compass. Randy mentions he needs to get that fixed, so just turn the heading indicator to 090 and move on. I'm a perfectionist. I'm OCD. This is driving me insane. First point of frustration.
Taxiing down to 27, winds were 6-8 kts, almost straight down the runway, so naturally I want to push the yoke full forward to expose the top of the elevator control surface to the wind. But I can't, because the nose is lower than usual, and we have to keep as much weight off it while taxiing as we can. And it's popping with every bump. Second frustration point. "How many fingers was the clearance when you checked it." Busted. Third frustration point.
Runup was fine, magneto check was the smoothest I've ever had, set the GPS to KHNB, but someone had the range out to like 500 miles, so it took us both a bit to realize we needed to zoom way in. More. Frustration.
Takeoff was good, let the airspeed get away a little. Midfield departure to the northwest to one of the practice areas, and up to 4500 feet. Simple flight today. Steep turns and slow flight. Started with 30° turns as a warmup, then to 45°. Nailed them all first try. Slow flight was equally successful, with a twist. He told me to take out 10° of flaps, and while he was correcting me for letting the nose fall, I forgot about the flaps and as a result took them all out. So he had me still hold it in slow flight, at 50 kts.
I'm not physically strong by any respects, so holding the nose up at 50 kts with no flaps was quite a challenge for me, let a lone doing a turn 90 degrees heading to the left to roll out on a north heading, but I did it. Then he told me to do a standard rate turn to the right, and roll out on South. "There's no way I can hold this for 60 more seconds" I thought. I did, for the most part. By now, my left arm was Jell-O. I should probably reconsider a gym membership in 2015...
Time to practice landings. The first attempt was a go-around. Way too high and too fast. Managing my energy and altitude during downwind, base, and final have been a big problem for me that I had actually overcome before I started having these long breaks between lessons.
The next two landings were not great, and to be honest, for almost all of them, I felt like I was behind the airplane. I told him this during the debrief. The wind was very choppy below 3,000 MSL, and I became aware on climbout of landing 2 that I didn't feel like my head was completely in the cockpit for some reason. A quick re-focusing exercise and I was back where I needed to be.
Attempt at landing #3 saw ground effect taking us halfway down the runway. Very very close to a dangerous stall, Randy took controls, and even he couldn't get her to settle down. Another go-around. Two more landings, the last of which was bouncy, to say the least. After nearly nosing the prop into the ground thanks to the weak strut, I raised the nose a bit, slowed the plane down, and we exited the runway.
Debriefing the flight, Randy commended me on slow flight and steep turns, talked about the landings, and overall said the flight wasn't that bad. I felt like the landings were some of my worst. He did say again that whatever I'm doing with regards to simulation is definitely helping.
Scheduled to fly next Wednesday afternoon. Clear skies are forecast, and the nosewheel strut should be fixed well before then. I need it to be fixed before then. There's no question these multi-week stretches between flights are holding me back. Every break between flights I feel like I'm losing progress instead of making it.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.