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May 26, 2019

Lesson #14: Saturday, May 18th, 2019

It's been three weeks since my last lesson. As I previous discovered, that much time off is not for maintaining muscle memory and ... well, just plain old memory. (Kelly quoting one her relatives: "What button do I mash to make it do?")

It wasn't by choice; N73924 was due for its 100 hour check, and the other Cessna 172 704RB was booked up.

But in the those three weeks I did pass one more significant milestone: the FAA office in Oklahoma City issued my Medical Certificate Third Class. My medical is good until November 30th, 2019 - only six months away.

My medical took seven months to get to this point because there were conditions that the FAA wanted to make sure were under control, so there was lots of back-and-forth with my doctor getting test results and forms filled out. If it took seven months to get the FAA to sign off on this one, I was concerned: do I need to started on my renewal immediately? (If it takes another seven months I'd already be late!)

A few months back I joined the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). AOPA has a service where you can call or email them with aviation-related questions. I emailed them a question about the process, and they directed me back to the seven pages the FAA sent me, which revealed that for the renewal, my Aviation Medical Examiner would be allowed to sign off on the conditions the FAA had approved. So when I go back to see the AME in October or November, assuming everything is unchanged, they will be able issue my year-long renewal. Whew!

This morning we were the second flight in 73924 following the 100-hour maintenance. It's worth being extra through in your preflight checks following maintenance; occasionally something will not be reconnected properly during maintenance, and you'll discover that either on the ground or in the air. (Steve's personal preference is to remain in the pattern for the first hour of flight following maintenance. )

The result of my three week layoff was predictable: I was rusty again. This happens to experienced pilots as well; they don't forget the basics like I do, but "currency" is a thing that pilots need to be aware of.

I'm still working on mastering landings, so we stayed in the pattern, taking off towards the south on 21R.

The first time around the pattern was rough; Steve had to take the aircraft just before we got to the runway because I didn't have it set up correctly.

The next few times around were not pretty, either, but I achieved a milestone: Steve had me take the aircraft all the way down to the runway. I actually landed! We were doing touch-and-gos, so Steve then took over the aircraft to get us back in the air.

One thing I didn't realize: when I'm allowed to solo the aircraft, I will not be allowed to do touch-and-gos like I've been doing with Steve. The reason: it's all too easy to end up too far down the runway and end up running out of runway. So as a student pilot, if I touch down on the runway, I'll need to bring the aircraft to a "full stop". One doesn't actually come to a full stop on the runway itself: you turn off onto the taxi way that the tower gives you, switch over to the ground frequency, and then come to a full stop just after getting off the runway until ground gives you instructions.

The touch-and-go itself is a tricky maneuver. As so as the aircraft is firmly on the ground, you want to immediately put the flaps back up, push the carburetor heat button back in, and push the throttle back to full power. At that point you're back to a normal takeoff: you want to pull back on the yoke between 55 and 60 knots, build up your speed, and then climb out between 70 and 79 knots.

My landings were all somewhat rough: I'm still having issues keeping the aircraft centered over the runway. But I was very proud to have actually got the aircraft all the way to the ground three times, including our final landing. On the last one we bounced back up into the air a little, which is a sign that I had too much speed. The goal is to get the aircraft right down over the runway at perhaps 25 feet, then just try to keep it off the runway by raising the nose gradually. When the aircraft gets down to around 40kts it will stall, which is actually what you want, because you want to get onto the ground with no lift so you don't bounce.

I had my first experience of rolling out after a landing. On a small aircraft on a long runway you don't want to use the brakes. Instead, you just keep the aircraft going straight down the runway until you bleed off enough speed where you can turn off.

I've been working on pattern work for three months now since lesson #8 on February 9th. Even though much of the flying today was rough because of my three weeks off, it was still very satisfying actually land after 7 lessons.