Facing Fears

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…

4 thoughts on “Facing Fears

  1. Hang in there. You are doing great! Once you get your IFR rating clouds will not bother you. Just get comfortable with solo flying in VFR for this step. Let positive thoughts and joy of flying define your flights. So far you have handled unexpected situations well. That should definitely boost your confidence that you can handle things if they start to go wrong.

    Don’t forget to enjoy ….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the things I learned while gaining my aviation skills was that a deadline was always a bad idea. I was very annoyed that my brother (fewer hours) got to fly off to take his check ride before I did. And I was annoyed that our instructor signed Adam off to solo before he would sign me off. I knew Adam was a better pilot, but I certainly felt safe enough for three landings. (Later I learned the risk a CFI takes for signing off solo and my CFI was extremely risk averse.)

    You are flying planes with really high hours, that are being maintained with an eye toward budget (since they are part of a flight school, every repair eats into profit). When I was flying those planes I would have the push-to-talk button go out. I’d squawk it, they would repair it, and two flights later it would go out again. Once I was flying rental planes that were *not* part of a flight school, I never deal with maintenance issues. And with my own plane it was a handful of items over a decade of ownership.

    I love the shots of the rolling green hills under the fluffy clouds. Those are worth framing. People get a lot of high altitude views out airliner windows and they all can look on Google maps now, but you are seeing things almost no one gets to see.

    (Blog entry where I got a low oil pressure light and diverted traffic at one of the busiest class B airports in the country: https://flyingsummers.com/2016/03/05/boston-landing/ Don’t be shy when it is a maintenance item. Use the E word. No one gets hurt when you declare an emergency and it will change your handling. “Cessna one eight two has a oil pressure warning and needs to expedite our landing,” would have changed things considerably, even without declaring an emergency.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds to me like you’re making good progress and are becoming a better pilot by analyzing your flights and learning from them — without beating yourself up too much over things you might’ve done differently.

    Colin hit the nail on the head with the comment about flight school maintenance. The airplanes take a lot of abuse from low-time students (which is not a dig at the student pilot — it’s an inevitable part of the learning process). They’re probably tied down outdoors, too, and maintained on a pretty strict budget. That’s not to say they’re unsafe, but it would explain why you find so many squawks. I’d also note that some pilots ignore things that are wrong with the airplane, while others such as yourself are more observant. You might be shocked by how many people would fly around for an hour or two without noticing that the oil pressure was too high at all!

    It’s a bummer to miss out on the deadline, especially when there’s scholarship money attached to it. But you can’t do anything about that. Instead, look at how far you’ve come. When you started, you weren’t even qualified to open the door. Now you’re flying solo, navigating, handling system issues, air traffic controllers, and all the rest. I’d say that’s a long journey! And if you’re flying solo cross countries, then you’re a lot closer to the end than to the beginning. So rejoice: you’re almost there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the encouragement. I have fizzled out a bit since the deadline came and went, but I am studying for the oral and when I’m not completely overwhelmed by all that I don’t know yet, I am excited to almost cross the finish line to being a licensed pilot.

      Liked by 1 person

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