Hello, my name is Valerie, and I’m a weenie.
It took me fifteen days to get back in a plane by myself after my last solo flight, and even that I only did after bursting into tears and having to sit in the plane for half an hour to deliberate on it.
Believe it or not, this was progress. The last solo flight I had scheduled I didn’t even make it to the plane.
The extreme weenieness began after my first cross country solo flight. Three specific thoughts occurred to me:
1) Every time I am alone in a plane, something new and unexpected seems to go wrong.
2) Most of the emergency situations I have trained for are things I can only read about, not actually experience (ex: How do I know I can land in a field with no engine since school policy prevents deliberately killing the engine or field landings? How do I know I can pull out of a spin when school policy prevents practical spin training?)
3) I don’t know enough to be doing this by myself. For the past few months I have been sprayed with a fire hose of information and caught what droplets I could believing that one day, I would have it all absorbed and understood. I thought that day would come before I had to be alone in an airplane, but it didn’t.
I still hold my breath when leaning the mixture (suppose I kill the engine by pulling too much), I discovered yesterday my gravity fed, not fuel injected system, does house a fuel pump, and don’t ask me how VORs work. Seriously, those things are magic.
Other contributing factors to my weenieness are that I’m new to Oregon and don’t know how to drive to most of the places I’m trying to fly to. I constantly feel lost up there. I look out the window and it’s all forest and rivers and mountains and little towns that look identical to the next little town. If I can pick out Hwy 26 or the Columbia River (I confuse it with the Willamette River all the time), it’s a really good day. If I can navigate back to my home airport without help, it’s a miracle.
Plus I still don’t have the experience to know what is a danger and what is normal. Flying over mountains, every time there’s even a hint of an updraft the first thing in my mind: “Oh no! IT’S WIND SHEAR, I’M GUNNA DIE!!! CLIMB! CLIMB! CLIMB!” When that right mag starts to bounce on the run-up, is it just carbon burning off from too much fuel or is the engine about to explode? I truly don’t know the difference yet. Which is why I came back to the parking lot on my last solo, burst into tears and refused to go up yesterday. A pilot that can’t even figure out what is wrong with her engine (or the fact that NOTHING is wrong with it) isn’t someone competent to go up there.
I am constantly out of my element. Out of my comfort zone. I do my best to stay calm and positive, and then something always seems to go wrong. Yesterday when I did finally make it up there for just a local flight instead of the cross country I had scheduled, I learned my transponder wasn’t reporting my altitude (this was bad because I had managed to fly myself right back into Delta airspace when the clouds that were supposed to be higher were not and I turned back).
The weenieness has not gone unnoticed by my CFI. Frankly, it’s hard to ignore a woman leaking Niagara Falls out of her face while conducting a preflight. He is trying lots of things to try to get me comfortable up there. First he got special permission from the flight chief to go to a little airport with a grass strip and practice (yes, actually do instead of just talk about) emergency field landings. Now I know I can land in a field and I know what to expect.
On our next flight I told him to deliberately make things go wrong with the plane without me noticing and let me figure it out and fix it. It was much more helpful from the way the flight school teaches it, “ok, now we’re going to pretend we’ve had an engine failure, but we’re not really going to do it.”
For the last part of the lesson he said, “ok, close your eyes, put your chin to your chest and when I tell you to look up, I want you to recover from whatever I have done to the plane” This proved the most valuable – and most nauseating – part of my training so far. He put the plane in strange attitudes, at strange speeds, sometimes almost to a stall when I looked up. Each time, I was able to pinpoint very quickly what to do to make it fly right again.
Yet, the next time I was supposed to go up by myself, I was in tears before I got to the plane.
I’ve tried everything I know to do.
Gizmo is helpful, he holds my water bottle between his belly and his seat belt, I can tuck my map under his leg and it won’t fall between the seats, and he provides someone to talk to. (“Do those clouds look much lower than reported to you too, Giz?” and “I don’t like this turbulence either Gizmo, let’s get out of here!”)
But to be truthful, even with Gizmo I’m still terrified to be all alone up there. There’s something about having another person in the plane. Another set of eyes to watch out or help you look for things on the ground. Even if they were in full panic mode, I could use them as a barometer. “Ok, you’ve got the panic covered, check, next we need to pitch for 60 knots…” Somehow the brain chemistry changes when it’s not just you up there. When you are responsible for getting someone else back safely.
I’m really not sure what to do. It has been explained to me that once I get my license I never have to fly alone again if I don’t want to. But I know to get to a license I have one more solo cross country flight I have to do before my check ride.
Anyone have a helpful tip or advice for how to get a weenie back in the plane by herself?