After another, long, multi-week delay, I finally got back in the air Tuesday evening. Yes, the engine was back in the plane two weeks ago. However, contrary to what my CFI and I understood, it was a brand new engine that had to be broken in. The first 4 hours on the engine have to be cross-country flight. Not that big a deal, right? If everything goes right, it's not. Since when has anything about these delays gone as expected though? Long story short, on the evening of 7/13 during the cross country the alternator gave up the ghost. Yes, the same alternator that failed on me last fall, supposedly due to a loose wire on the inside.
Enough about the delays. They're behind me (us - there are 5 of us 'leftovers' from last summer that still need to finish up). I do my walk-around while he fuels her up, explaining the extra weight will add a little stability in the 9-15kt winds.
First order of business after the runup is setting the OWB VOR. I'm to track a radial to it once we get airborne and fly to it, or toward it at least. I do so, adjusting along the way for the wind & relatively close proximity of the VOR - it's about a 20 minute trip to KOWB from KHNB. I used to be proficient in this back in my early flight simming days, but I don't do it much anymore since most of the planes in-sim, especially X-Plane, contain a G430 or comparable GPS simulation. I also need to work on identifying the VOR code, which will be easier when I have the chart in-hand during an actual cross-country (I'll use ForeFlight once I get my PPL, but the same applies).
Once we get close to the river, he tunes COM1 and has me turn east, toward KY8, which is Hancock County. Terrible name for an airport anyway. When you're used to doing radio calls for Huntingburg Airport it's even worse. I make calls for many other airports while flying on the PilotEdge network, but apparently my speech muscle memory from doing so didn't come along for this flight. Each time I called "Hancock County traffic...." it was a struggle just to enunciate clearly.
I turned right onto the 45° left downwind for runway 5. Pattern altitude at KY8 is 1400'. Good. I have to put the altimeter needle somewhere else and need to use my brain, even if just a little, to know when I'm 500' above to start my turn to final and crosswind turn on climbout. This was my first landing in 2 months, and my first at any other airport. I set it down right on center, no ballooning, no awkward over-correcting, just a good landing. "Alright, let's do another one." The second looked about the same as the first, and we were off again.
"Alright, fly a heading of 280, put 019 in the OBS, intercept that radial, and take me back to Huntingburg." I got us on the radial, and he made sure the GPS wasn't showing me where KHNB was. It was a hazy day, so it took me a bit to see the field, probably 15 miles out, but I could make out the airport clearly. I was set up perfectly to enter the 45° left downwind for 27. Made the radio call, then started my descent from pattern altitude once I was abeam touchdown.
I won't sugar coat it. The first approach to 27 was a flat-out ugly, over-correcting, bumbling mess, and as a result, the landing was terrible. We talked it through on climb-out & laughed about it. "Randy, I can do way better than that." "I know you can." "Yeah but let me prove it to you." "Well, you did land the airplane though." "True, but it wasn't pretty."
He checked the crosswinds again. 7 kts, straight across the runway. I said, "Good, I need that." As we approached abeam, I loosened up & got relaxed, and half-jokingly said "Randy, let me show you how I do this at home. Which is really the same way I would do it here, but let me just translate it into the real thing." I did. And it was great. A little flat, but I was loose, calm, inputting small corrections, right down the middle. I did one other landing just as good, and he said, "Alright, let's stop there. I don't want to beat it to death," meaning I had a good thing going and was on point, and he wanted to end the flight on a good note.
As we taxied back to the hangar, he complimented that it was the best I'd ever flown with him, and he honestly couldn't tell the difference between me and any of his friends who have been certificated pilots for years. I was humbled to say the least, and replied with appreciation for the encouragement.
As we put 34Q away I noticed some nearly-evaporated wet spots on the ramp near the pumps. "Looks like we had some traffic while we were gone. Looks like they stopped for some fuel" He agreed, & said we'd probably have a lot this week with folks heading up to Oshkosh.
Then he told me he and his wife had planned on going this year for their vacation, but he just didn't have the heart to make me and the other four guys wait another week to fly. So, they were leaving later this week for an extended weekend vacation elsewhere. I told him I'd have understood if he'd have gone. I'd have been sick knowing where he was - before all the delays, I was planning to go as my first big thing to do after getting my PPL - but I'd have understood.
Plans are to fly again next Tuesday, weather permitting of course. Solo is back on the agenda, and it'll be happening soon. Very soon.
The next day I went back across the river into Kentucky. This time was by car, and my destination was KLOU - Bowman Field, where there is a CATS testing center. I took and subsequently passed the written knowledge test. I missed 13 out of the 60, but fortunately the printed report tells me exactly where in the regs I can find the ones that I missed. I'll definitely review them before the oral test/checkride, in case the CFI testing me happens to bring them up.
It's getting closer, and I can almost see the finish line. I'm getting excited again, the way I was when I first started flying.
Two Victor Uniform, clear of Two Seven.