This has been a week of facing fears and overcoming them.
The first fear: I’m afraid of being alone in an airplane. Suppose the engine makes a funny noise and I don’t know what to do? Suppose I get lost out there [again]? Suppose I can’t land the airplane? Suppose I can’t understand the controller at the airport (there’s one the pilots call “marble-mouth”)?
So, Gizmo and I completed a local flight on our own. A very local flight – we never left the pattern. I figured since the pattern is some of the most dangerous flying involving the most use of piloting skills and the most strain on an airplane and the most talking to the controllers it was the best place to spend an hour on my own to get over the fear.
It was a good thing I did. I’m rusty on pattern work. The first approach was so terrible it was a go-around at 200 feet. The next was rough to say the least, but by the end of an hour I was much more confident and had learned a few things about the plane one can only get from wrestling with it in the absence of an instructor. I had some close calls. At one point a plane cleared for 31L landed on 31R (where I was landing) when I was on final, but the controllers were calm and cool and ordered me to do a go around and then turned me crosswind early and lined me up again.
As always seems to happen when I fly solo, something went wrong. I was taking off from another touch and go when I noticed my oil pressure was all the way to the right in the red. Immediately I got on the radio and requested a full stop on 31L (aka “the big one” where all the full stop landings happen). The tower told me to standby for sequencing. A slew of other planes had made similar requests and I was instructed to extend my downwind until they had everyone lined up.
This is a regret of mine now that I understand how serious a high oil pressure reading can be, but I didn’t tell the tower about it because I really don’t want to be known as the girl that ALWAYS needs help up there (I’m pretty sure I am known as “she’s lost again” to a few incredibly helpful ATC personnel).
When my downwind leg was extended to the point I couldn’t see the airport anymore behind me I began picking out good fields for emergency landings. I could see PDX and all of downtown Portland when they finally called my base leg.
I landed just fine incident free, taxied to the flight school parking lot and squawked the high oil pressure reading. It was fairly simple. The valve needed an adjustment so that pressure would not build up again. Whew!
Second fear: flying with clouds. I know. I live in Oregon. At some point I have GOT to get comfortable with the idea of flying when it is raining/cloudy but I wasn’t there yet – much to the chagrin of my former military captain flight instructor who could be dropped in a forest with a chicken bone, fashion a compass before using it for nourishment and finding his way home. He fears nothing and he never gets lost. Ever.
So, for the next solo flight Gizmo and I got out there on a day with overcast skies, steady precipitation and in some places pretty tough visibility and deliberately flew away from the airport for an hour and a half. We practiced S-turns and turns around a point and turns around a field. We flew up valleys and over lakes. We followed creeks. We stayed out there until the terror subsided into joy.
The final fear: admitting out loud I am not going to make the May 31 deadline to get my pilot’s license. For a year now I’ve been operating under this notion. I’ve had a scholarship that depends upon my finishing on this date. I’ve put other things in my life on hold until this deadline passes. I’ve had a whirlwind year – a cross-country move, a new job, a hospitalized husband, and a month of quarantine and still made it all the way to the finish line only to find I am just a tad short. And yes, it’s devastating.
I am close. So close I can taste it. Only a few weeks away in all likelihood, but getting there in the next few days? No. It’s just too much and I am not ready. I am still trying to understand some concepts that I am certain will be on the oral test. This weekend I have a wedding anniversary to celebrate and there is no way I’m going to be ready for, schedule and do a progress check and get a DPE lined up on a holiday weekend.
Now, if I could just get my puppy to face her fear of skateboards…