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January 26, 2019

Flight Lessons #6/7

After a two week break, I flew twice in the last week: Lesson #6 on Mon Jan 21st (MLK Day holiday) and #7 today on Sat Jan 26. It's been a mixed bag.

Monday started off very cold: 25° at 8am. We had to bring out the jury-rigged heater to get the engine started. It's got a propane tank gadget that my CFI used to blow hot air to the engine. Steve, however, is a master of getting cold engines to start.

The lesson started with my nemisis: taxiing. When you're on the ground, you steer the airplane with the rudder pedals at your feet. Those pedals are attached to springs which move the nose wheel: at least that's how it's supposed to work. I'm fairly sure last Monday when I was pressing left, gremlins were sitting under the floorboard and making the plane go right. That's got to be it, right? It's not just that I'm crappy at it? In any case, I'd try to taxi for a few seconds, the plane would go the opposite of where I wanted it to go, and my instructor would say "My airplane!" and take over. I tried again a couple of times, but somehow I just was not getting it. Even though I'd done a takeoff the previous lesson and should have done it again, I told Steve I didn't feel confident in my ability to keep the plane on the runway, and he agreed.

The rest of the lesson was uneventful. I think Steve decided I just needed to do some review, so we went out and did some steep (45°) turns, trying to maintain altitude. Steve showed me one, and as he came back around, the plane hit a bump - and Steve turned to me, excited, and said "We just hit our own wake! That's how you're supposed to do it!" Needless to say, I was in no danger of repeating his feat.

It was also very clear. Steve said he could see planes landing all the way down at Hartsfield. You'd think it would be cool to be 2,000 above the ground on a beautiful morning - just look at everything! But when you're up there, your attention is fully consumed, and you really don't have much time to enjoy the scenery. If you want to enjoy looking at all the cool stuff, take my advice: go up with someone else and enjoy the view.

Steve's summary of the lesson: "You're doing fine in the air but terribly on the ground!" disagree.

It's better for learning if you can fly more frequently. Several times a week would be ideal. But I made the improvident decision to start flight lessons right before we also decided to buy a house. So until we get into the house and the finances stabilize again, I'm trying to fly every two weeks. Those of you who live in Atlanta realize that next weekend we're going to have our very own no-fly zone called the Superbowl. And the FAA has decreed that no training flights will be allowed out of PDK between January 29th and February 5th. In fact, they're going to shut down runways at PDK and start parking plants right on the runways. I will come out to the airport next Saturday Feb 4th just to see all the crazy traffic flying in, but if I wanted to avoid waiting three weeks to fly, I had to schedule something this weekend.

For #7 this morning I was back in the much newer Cessna 172 N704RB. Fuel injection, baby. Yeah. But 11 points where you have to check the fuel. Ah, the smell of avgas in the morning; I can't say I love it.

Today was a mixed bag. On the plus side, I did far better with the taxiing. I think I was over-controlling the aircraft Monday; today I managed to keep it until control, and I even did the takeoff. Today's destination: KLZU: Gwinnett County Briscoe Field, better known as Lawrenceville. The idea is once again to practice being in the pattern (1,000' above the field), turning base and final, and then coming in low over the field, working on my ability to keep the plane aligned with the runway while the wind tries to blow the plane sideways off the runway center line.

It was a beautiful day, but it was pretty bumpy up there. My instructor's advice: don't try to chase the altitude: every time you get bumped up above your altitude you're gonna get another one pushing you down. Just ride it out.

Lawrenceville is a towered airport with a single runway. With the Superbowl coming up, all of Atlanta and their ferrets were up and flying today. At one point we were 5th in line for landing. I even heard the tower say "The pattern is full." to one pilot. (No Ghostrider, though.)

My flying was spotty today; there were times where I not in full control of the aircraft. You could feel it. Steve was always ready to take over and did so at a few points.

On one of the trips around the pattern, I finally relaxed a little and had just my left hand on the control yoke instead of gripping it in both hands. "That's better!" said Steve. "You need your right hand free for other things." Like controlling the throttle. I am getting more confident with using the throttle. In a car, you're always using the throttle: stopping, going, slowing down, speeding up. In an airplane, you tend to keep a constant throttle except to go up or down.

So all in all, bit of a mixed day. Some things I'm doing ok at it; some things could be better.

But it's still really cool. I've been sitting here at the Downwind Restaurant overlooking the field writing. It must be busy out there; I've been hearing aircraft buzzing every few minutes. While I'm at the airport I'm still feel like a pilot. I think I'll go out with my radio and listen and watch for a little while longer before I go home and back to earth.

Postscript: I did go out and listen and watch. Just two months in, and I'm part of the club: I understand what I'm hearing. As I listen, I hear 704RB call Peachtree Tower, and I watch it land. There is a woman next to me taking pictures with a big Canon lens, and I want to say "704 Romeo Bravo! I flew that today!" But instead I watch it taxi back to the ramp and shut down.

Flying, man. Flying.