Hello fellow aviators, well-wishers and vagrant blog browsers! I know what you’re thinking, “surely she has soloed by now, weeks have gone by.”
Perhaps my title was a dead giveaway but um, no, not yet, but thanks for asking.
After I learned I passed the progress check (and made a special request to NEVER work with the junior chipmunk again…perhaps more of a demand actually) I was instructed to be sure to wear a crappy shirt to my next lesson…[eek!!!].
The night before the big day I had my first 99s chapter meeting. You guys will never believe who the guest speaker was. Just when I was sure he would be permanently removed from all my future endeavors in aviation in waltzes the junior chipmunk. His introduction did in fact confirm he is not yet old enough to drink alcohol and somehow in roughly three years of flying he has secured his place in the upper echelon of the flight school. Suspecting a paternal connection with the flight chief, I politely endured his presentation while all of the women around me gawked and drooled over the handsome young man that was kind enough to charitably give of his time to teach a bunch of girls how to use the ForeFlight app. I’m beginning to suspect this chipmunk and I are going to have a long and winding road of engagements, specifically because I am making it my mission to avoid him. Isn’t that how life tends to go?
But I digress, this post is about my next few lessons. My next lesson was supposed to be the first solo but that morning something was off. I can’t put my finger on it, but the moment I woke up everything felt wrong. I still went through the motions. I wore the crappy shirt. I did a little chair flying to prepare. I arrived early to the airport so that when my flight time started my manifest was filled out and my pre-flight was knocked out.
Off we went to fly the pattern three times before the big event. Everything was executed exactly right. I rotated at 60 knots, I climbed at 70 knots, I turned crosswind to face Mt. St. Helens at 700 feet. I climbed to pattern altitude and turned downwind towards Mt. Hood. Just past the numbers I pulled my power back, pitched for 80 knots, pulled the carb heat, and pulled my first notch of flaps. I turned base at 900 feet, pulled my second notch of flaps and dropped it down to 500 feet to turn final. Turning final I pulled my last notch of flaps, aimed right at the runway and brought it down….safely but not so pretty. “Shake it off, Val, you haven’t flown in a week and a half.” Carb heat in, flaps up, full throttle, off we went again.
The second time around we caught some turbulence on the downwind leg that unsettled me. The clouds that morning looked ominous and bulges were forming across the ceiling. It looked as if the bottom would drop at any moment, but we kept flying in hopes it would hold out. The second landing was better, one might even say pretty.
The third time around the turbulence caught us on the downwind and the base leg. Then about twenty feet above the runway the plane was swept dramatically off to the right. I decided to execute a go around. It wasn’t a clean go around. It was a messy, ‘oh crap I forgot to put the throttle in all the way or pull my flaps up because I suddenly couldn’t hear myself on the radio’ go around. I announced my go around to the tower about four times before my instructor clarified they had heard me and helped me recover. Then the tower sent us to the right pattern (we had been in the left) ending at a different runway. Now I was flustered and by the time I was turning to the downwind I had lost sight of the airport entirely. That’s when the turbulence began again. Frankly I was scared. I was doing the flying but if I were to be totally honest, I didn’t want my CFI to get out even if all he was doing was sitting and watching. The weather was changing by the minute and I was completely out of sorts.
I had one more pretty landing that day, then a not so pretty landing, and my final landing came with a warning from my CFI that if I put the plane down that crooked again I was in danger of flipping it. Needless to say, we taxied back to the parking area, tied the plane up and ended the lesson without me soloing. I was devastated, but I understood why. I have put a lot of time and effort into understanding what achieves the perfect landing since then.
Our next two lessons were ground school on account of the weather. I have begun cross-country plotting which has resulted in my E6-B flying across the room once about every ten minutes (if one more person preaches to me how easy it is to use and understand…). It is fair to say I am pretty frustrated with my aviation training right now. But I’m holding on because a legion of pilots assure me that it gets better and that someday this will all be worth it. So, I have three more lessons this week and hopefully one of them will see me soloing.