This past Tuesday, it had been 71 days since I had last been in the cockpit of an airplane. That's by far the longest stretch since I started flying. In that time, 34Q had been gone for 4 weeks to Mena, Arkansas for a repaint. I joked with a friend the week I knew she was back that "knowing my luck, she'll get back and it'll be just about time for her 100-hr inspection." I reeeally need to learn to keep my mouth shut on such things, because that's exactly what happened.
After waiting for the 100-hr to complete, I finally had a lesson scheduled for this past Tuesday. There was just one thing that might have stood in the way. Yep. The weather. Forecast called for thunderstorms the first three days this week. Cynical doesn't begin to describe my attitude going into work on Tuesday. But as the day progressed, I could see potential light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the weather was to the east, tracking NNE. Winds were pretty significant, 15G21 straight across, and the ceiling was sufficient that I could at least get some crosswind landings in. No way I'm going to shy away from wind. I
I walked out onto the ramp to see Randy fueling the old girl up. And her new paint job is very, very sharp.
I'll get a better pic of it next flight and post it - I was so excited to get started on my preflight I completely forgot about getting a shot of the new livery.
I completed my walkaround, Randy and I added a quart of oil (was just over 6 on the stick when I checked).
We climbed in, I did my pre-flight passenger briefing, then proceeded with the checklist items. We both heard the unmistakable sound of dual turboprops approaching the airport just as I was starting the engine. The King Air was coming in. I love turboprops, by the way. Fired up the G430, listened to AWOS, then pulled forward, tested my brakes, made my taxi call, and waited for the KingAir to taxi past before I headed out, amid his lingering prop wash, to 27 to do my run-up.
Takeoff was good. It felt so, so great to be back in the air. After a midfield departure to the north, Randy asked me how it felt to be back up here. I answered honestly. It felt like coming home after being away for a few years. It was like I was supposed to be there. I can't explain it, but the whole flight felt like that.
Slow flight was good, although I thought I was a little sloppy in my turns. We then did 5 power-off stalls. I had trouble with the first three, and honestly didn't get too down on myself because realistically it had been months since I was up, so I'm going to be a little rusty. After the last stall, it was back to the field to work on landings.
I hit the freq swap button on the 430 to get AWOS again. Winds were 210 at 17, peak gust 26. Nice. This is going to be a challenge to say the least. It actually calmed down a bit by the time we got back, which took longer because we had gone a bit east during maneuvers to avoid the towns (and an RV that took off from KHNB that was flying over to KDCY), so I was flying against an almost direct headwind of 17 kts, knocking my ground speed down to 79.
I was surprised and satisfied with my first approach. I rounded out a little high, but with verbal cues from Randy corrected and set it down gently for a touch-and-go. The second landing went much better, with him cueing when 'not' to start the round-out. After the third landing, he commented, "Wow. That was really good, well done. You fly like this the next time we fly, I'm going to solo you." After the fourth, during which the RV had entered the pattern midfield crosswind, he continued the encouragement, saying, "Man. If it wasn't for this wind, I'd dang near solo you tonight. I mean, for not flying for 71 days, you're going great....I mean...damn, excuse my French."
I never know how to respond, so I simply said "Thanks. I felt really good about that landing." I called touch and go for 27 to let the RV know we were off the runway, then back into the pattern one last time for the evening. Landing #5 was just like the other 4. The wind had died down a bit, but was gusting again as I got to the runway. I held it off and let the upwind wheel down first, the best I've ever done in a crosswind, then let the right main down followed by the nose. Then, for some reason....I checked out somewhere. I started veering left. Randy was like, "What are you doing? Where you going? Let's get it back over to the center." I still don't know what I was thinking, maybe was taking in the way that landing went and forgot to keep controlling the plane, I really don't know.
Taxied back to the hangar, shut down, and we started talking about the flight as we were getting 34Q ready to be put away.
The RV pilot came up on a golf cart, apparently his receipt from the fuel farm had blown away earlier, and he'd come over to let Randy know, only to find it blowing around. Randy introduced us, and he told me he was part of a group that meets every Saturday morning and goes flying to get breakfast, and invited me to join them once I get my PPL.
As he started lowering the hangar door, he again said that he actually would solo me tonight, if the wind had calmed down just a little more. "You're ready."
That's when I remembered I wanted to take a picture of the new paint. I'll get a better one next week.
So, we went into the office and debriefed, which was surprisingly short. Next lesson is scheduled for Tuesday. In a nutshell, the next time we fly, as long as the weather is good, and I'm "on" like I was this flight, I'll be doing my first solo. So far the weather is looking good. Here's hoping it stays that way.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of the active.