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Pattern Work at approx. 10 hours

I mentioned before that my flight instructor seems to be of the “just keep doing it” school of thought: he will happily answer any question I ask and points out what he thinks I need to work on, but otherwise mostly lets the experience of performing the actions be the teacher. We didn’t talk about landings at all in the first several lessons, we just did one each lesson as a matter of course. After an hour working on stalls or emergency landings, he would give me a heading that would take us back to the airport on a 45 to the downwind, and then start talking me through the landing. I was doing landings all the way to the ground (with help) from my second lesson, but for those first several lessons I was just following instructions: I didn’t really have the procedure down, didn’t understand why we were reducing power or putting in flaps when we did. I’ve read about landings plenty in my ground school materials, so nothing was totally alien to me, but other than the general mantra to fly a stabilized approach the same way every time, a lot of the details of a landing come down to the particular aircraft you’re flying and personal preference (for instance, exactly when to put in flaps and how much). For the first several lessons, from the moment we entered the traffic pattern at the end of the lesson I was well and fully behind the airplane, just following instructions as they were given.

We’ve now had four lessons in a row where we did nothing but pattern work: take off, fly in a circle, and land again, ten times a lesson. The repetition is working, at least as far as confidence goes. I feel like I’m ahead of the airplane all the way through the pattern, and only a few times have I forgotten to put the flaps in when I should or complete my CGUMPS checks on downwind before the last second. I am now confident that I can make a survivable power-on landing without help, even with a bit of crosswind. I would like for the plane that I’m flying to be reusable after the landing, though, and there’s where I still have a lot of work to do. I keep underestimating how much to pull back during the flare, and dropping the airplane in too hard. My instructor’s poor plane is going in for a 100 hour this week, and I keep imagining a mechanic shaking his head and clucking his tongue looking at the shape of the landing gear after I’ve been doing all these crosswind landings in it. We haven’t lucked into a calm day for practice yet, and it seems every one of those 40 landings had wind from a different direction, from almost direct crosswind to almost direct headwind down the runway…and probably a couple of tailwind landings too. (On the first day the wind was so variable that we had to swap to the opposite runway halfway through the lesson, and we think it swapped again just before the last touchdown, giving us a tailwind instead of a headwind at the last moment for the last touchdown.)

All this pattern work is a good confidence booster, and frankly I enjoy it more than practicing stalls: I have a fundamental antipathy to intentionally putting an airplane anywhere close to a spin condition on purpose. Still, it’ll be nice to have a nice calm day for pattern work someday soon so I can separate out how much of my trouble landing is due to learning to deal with variable conditions, vs how much is just plain learning how to land.

Speaking of confidence, on the last lesson, I had my son with me so I could quickly get him to an appointment after my lesson, and he got to sit in the back seat while my instructor and I practiced taking off and landing for an hour. Six flight hours ago, I’d have never done that: I was just too nervous.

In all those landings, I’ve had two that I felt really pretty good about, and that I think my instructor didn’t help with. If he did he won’t fess up to it :-) Lest I get too full of myself, though, here’s a list of some other brilliant things I did these past few hours. Every one of these is a lesson learned.

  • Mixed up idle cutoff and full rich during the engine-start checklist, and tried to start the engine with the mixture at idle. This was on about my sixth or seventh time to start the engine, not my first.
  • Gunned the engine (put in power, realized what I’d done, and pulled it out quick), parked facing a fence five feet opposite my instructor’s nice new truck. Luckily I was holding the brakes tight. I had meant to pull the mixture to idle cutoff.
  • Told Unicom (instead of Traffic) about my intention to taxi. They don’t care.
  • Asked Uniform (instead of Unicom) for a radio check. No one answered…probably all the uniforms were in for dry cleaning.

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