27 August 2010

I'm All Alone, There's Nobody There In Front of Me

Head hung low, brain hurting, I dragged my feet outside as I thought about the exam I had just written; Maths. Ugh! Morale had hit rock bottom, so I took my phone out in the hopes that something exciting was happening on Facebook. I slid my phone open and saw that there was a calender event. Confused (I don't normally set these things), I opened it. "Went solo".

A smile instantly appeared on my face as I remembered one of the biggest, happiest days of my life. All thoughts of maths vanished, and there was a spring in my step as I walked to the car. "It's been a year since I first went solo. Woohoo. I'm giving myself the day off! I'm going to go for a flight!"

Well, I did give myself the day off, but I didn't get to fly; Murphy was at it again and the wind was really pumping. So I decided to leave the Yellow Beast in her hanger and take photos instead. I wish that I had photos after I'd gone solo, or that I'd been chucked in muddy water, or something, but I don't have any physical evidence of that day. I do however, remember it quite well...

27 August 2009

We'd been doing a couple of circuits and things were going well. It was one of those days that just make you feel good! My landings were respectable and I was really enjoying myself. On the Downwind leg of one of the circuits, my Instructor said that I must make it a full-stop. I didn't want to leave the air, but I grudgingly said "Alright then"; I didn't want to question his decision.

I landed with a somewhat heavy heart and vacated Runway 19, wishing I was still in the air. As we neared the Clubhouse, my instructor said "Ok, from now on, you will be Student Delta Victor Romeo."
"Uhm, ok?" Was this some kind of exercise? A test?
"I'm going to jump out, and I want you to taxi around a bit, then do a circuit."
"Uuhh... Wait. WHAT?!"
We stopped in front of the Clubhouse.
"I'm going to get out now."
"And you want me to... taxi?"
"And then I want you to take off."
"... WHAT?!?!"

My jaw dropped and I must've looked like a fish (haha, Flying Fish. Anyway). Was this guy actually serious? I looked at him and saw that he was already half way out of the plane. Mouth still hanging open, I looked from him, to the my hand (which was resting on the throttle), to the windsock. It was completely vertical; not a breath of wind. I looked back to my Instructor and saw him standing there, looking at me rather expectantly. I quickly snapped my mouth closed and tried to regain some normal brain function. That done, I said the first thing that came to my mind.

"I can't."
"Why not?"
"My dad will kill me; he said he wants to be here when I go solo."
"I've already spoken to him."
"Are you serious?! ... Do you think I'm ready?"
"If I didn't think you were, I wouldn't let you do this."

I glanced at the windsock. It hadn't moved.

"Taxi around a bit and if you don't feel happy, go back to the hanger. If you're alright; take off."
"Ok... Student DVR?"
"Yep. I'll talk to you on the radio just now."

And then, he was gone. Thoughts of 'Solo? Go solo? Is he mad?' kept racing through my mind. I remembered what he had said; taxi around. Snapping my mouth closed once again (why does it keep falling open?), I had a quick look around to make sure I wouldn't hit anything, took my feet off the brakes, and slowly opened the throttle just enough to get the plane moving.

As I taxi'd around I started thinking 'No way! Solo. Really? No way! Solo?!' I taxi'd past the clubhouse again and glanced at the windsock. It was just hanging there. "Ok, lets give this a go," I said out loud to myself.

I taxi'd to the threshold of runway 19 and ran through every checklist I could remember; Just in case. (But even so, there isn't much to check when flying the Cubby. The joys of basic aircraft). Checks done, I listened on the radio to make sure that there wasn't a lot of traffic. Luckily, there was only a Tiger Moth that had just joined overhead.

"Stellenbosch Traffic, Student Delta Victor Romeo entering and backtracking runway 19."
I entered the runway in a haste, but then I reminded myself that I had right of way, and I mustn't rush; this is my time. I lined up, being sure to try and be on the centerline. I glanced to my right and checked the windsock one more time; nothing.

Taking a breath, I slowly opened the power and pushed the stick forward simultaneously. "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. Why isn't my tail going up?!" Checked the speed, looked outside. "Aaaah! About to go onto the grass!" Speed was alright and the tail was starting to come up, so I gently pulled the stick back a bit and raised the nose, applying some left rudder so that I would leave the black stuff and go 'farming'. "Wow! That was a close one! Hey, I'm flying! ... Wow, I never realised how big this cockpit is without someone sitting in front of me."

It's amazing how we think of the most random things at the most random of times. I decided to stop day-dreaming (ok, I was actualy about to break into song), and apply everything I'd learnt. The after take-off checks popped into my mind, and I went through them: Brakes, Undercarriage, Throttle-Set, Mixture-Set, Flaps, Lights. (I neglected to check the temperatures and pressures during that flight. I haven't forgotten since.)

By this time the Tiger was on Downwind, and he was quite far ahead on my 11 'o clock, so I decided to do my usual tight circuit as I felt confident that I wouldn't get too close. I called Downwind as he did a very tight Base leg and turned onto Finals. I still thought "He'll be clear by the time I'm ready to land." I throttled back and got my speed to about 80mph, found my Base marker and turned.

"Student Delta Victor Romeo, Base, 19"
I looked at the runway and realised that the Tiger didn't have brakes, and therefore couldn't exactly vacate all that fast. I turned onto Finals and I felt a sense of panic. Now what? Do I do an orbit? Am I allowed to at this height on a final approach? What do I say?! I couldn't answer any of the questions that rushed through my mind, so I did what seemed logical; I killed time by doing zig-zags. Right, straighten, right, hard left, right. My grip on the throttle and stick tightened as I got lower and closer to the runway, the Tiger still puttering along it. "Pappa Charlie Whiskey has vacated runway 19". I breathed a huge sigh of relief and focused on my height and speed. I was a bit high, so I figured that I may as well side-slip in. "Student Delta Victor Romeo, Finals, 19"

I flew it down to the numbers and held off so that the speed would drop. "Fly it down, fly it down." I was going to land deep. "That's right, check back, check back, all the way back now and hold it." I thought it would be like all my other landings; a bouncer with a go-around. The tail-wheel touched, then one of the main gear, then the other. It took me a second to realise that all three wheels were on the ground. It was a PERFECT landing!!! (Or as perfect as they can be. Nothing in flying is perfect after all). The Cubby quickly reminded me that I wasn't finished flying yet by swinging the tail from side to side. I quickly got my feet working the rudders and countered the fish-tailing.

It's an amazing feeling going solo, and it's even more amazing when you execute a flawless (IMO) landing. You really think "Wow, I just flew all by myself with no help from anyone else. That's so cool." I remember vacating the runway and wondering if I should say that I had vacated or not. Seeing as no one was in the circuit or on the ground, I decided to keep quiet. I flung the door open and savoured the nippy fresh air being blasted into my face. It was invigorating; the sun was setting, the air was crisp and fresh, and the adrenalin was pumping!

I taxi'd the short distance to the hanger without incident and shut-down. After I had jumped out I just stood there, thinking. My instuctor walked up to me and I looked at him before packing out laughing. I couldn't stop saying "Wow" and "I can't believe I just went solo!" I think he was impressed; he didn't even make me put the covers and everything on the plane. I bounced off to the clubhouse, trying to contain my grin; there were a lot of people there and I didn't want to seem smug.

When I walked through the gate they all looked at me and started congratulating me. I didn't really know what to do, so I just kept saying "Thanks" and "That was so amazing" and shook a bunch of people's hands and got a whole lot of hugs. I got my dad on the phone and he couldn't stop saying how proud he is, and at one point it really seemed to hit home for me, and I almost started crying from the realisation at what I'd done. Solo in a tail-dragger at the tender age of 17. That's something.

By now I couldn't keep the grin off my face, but the adrenalin was starting to wear off; I was cold, tired and hungry, and I still had 3 hours of radio lectures to get through. I ended up dozing in the lectures, smiling every now and then when I thought about my flight and whispered "Solo!" to myself, followed by a quiet, goofy little giggle. I also realised that that one, short little flight had made every failed exam worth it.

And now here I am, one year later with a Com subject passed and almost 80 hours behind my name. Life, she is pretty good.

24 August 2010

Thou mocketh me

So things have been pretty quiet lately. I've only flown twice since the third and the 19th. On the 3rd I had a bit of a scary experience; I almost ground-looped the plane. For some reason I couldn't get my landings right, and for the first time since I started flying I thought "Am I ever going to make this thing stay on the ground? What if I can't do it?!" Luckily I eventually hit the ground and stayed there (after a few jarring bounces).

But now I've started with school mock exams, so everything else has been put on hold, much to my disgust; I now have a beautiful Canon 40D in my possession, and all I want to do is take photos. But due to time constraints (and a small memory card), I'm unable to do this. Although, I DID get to go to Cape Town International yesterday, so I took a couple of photos there.

I can't wait until these exams finish:
- AAD 2010 is coming up soon
- I want to do a few cross-country flights
- School is almost over... FOREVER!

Woohoo. That's it for now.

Stay safe.

01 August 2010

July Flying Summary

I’d say that July was quite a good month flying - and photo - wise. I took over 600 photos, unfortunately very few of those are actually good, but anyway. I also flew the Cubby, a Piper Cub, and a Tiger Moth.

Flying the Cub was quite strange, and the biggest problem for me was that there was a delay when one opened the power, so you have to be very careful, especially when on the ground (brakes don’t work very well). The Tiger however, is an absolute dream to fly, and she’s even a pleasure on the ground, despite the lack of brakes. It’s quite something sticking your head out of the cockpit, wind blasting you in the face as you fly the Final approach, alternating between watching the ground, checking the speed (using the primitive airspeed indicator on the wing), flying, and trying not to be blown away. One also flares a lot sooner in the Tiger as it has ‘long legs’. Awesome!
The really cool thing is that I can log the times of both those flights. And I’ve finally started a new page in my logbook.

So, this is where I stand:

CPL subjects passed: 1
Hours flown for the month: 5.6

Total Instrument: 5 (4.8 FSTD actual time)
Total Dual: 29.2
Total PIC: 41.2
Total: 75.2