Cathartic, That’s as Good A Word As Any…

John HurlbutFlying, Private pilotLeave a Comment

I went flying Saturday for just a bit. About 0.7 hours actually. The last time I flew was February 2, 2016. The time before that was November 27, 2015. I’m clearly not flying enough. I’ll post the draft from my February 2 flight as well, I never got around to finishing it. Flying between October and April in the Northwest is somewhat difficult. Lots of low clouds, lots of rain, lots of wind. Certainly not conducive to VFR flying. Yesterday my friend Gordon gave me crap for flying. He said “I’m surprised you’re flying today”. When I enquired why, he said “Because there are clouds”. I called him a dick in jest, because that’s what guys do.

It’s true my personal minimums are probably a bit higher than most pilots. My flight instructor was extremely conservative when it came to flying in weather that was maybe ok to fly and that has carried over into my evaluation of flying as well. I do need to practice more on blustery days. I can’t expect that if I leave Puyallup on Saturday morning for a flight to say California, that on Sunday morning the the winds in California are going to be perfectly calm as I return to Washington. As long as I’m a VFR pilot, I need to keep challenging myself in situations that are at the edge of my envelope to keep me sharp, and expanding my skills as a pilot.

I remember one day during flight training, there was a good 7-8 knot crosswind. I was going out for a solo flight, my instructor wasn’t there, so I asked another instructor how the winds were, he replied “How are your crosswind landings?” I didn’t have a great answer because we rarely if ever flew in these conditions. I went to the chief flight instructor and asked for his evaluation of the situation and he said “You’ll be fine”, so I went. And he was right. With dozens of hours under my belt, I knew what to do, and I flew fine that day.

But Gordon does give me crap, a lot, for my not flying on days he’s headed up. Part of the problem is I don’t have my own plane. He does. Another issue is that someone apparently forgot to put the fuel selector on “both” on one of the planes I had flown a lot, ran out of gas, landed on McNeil Island in soft grass, dug the nose wheel in and flipped the airplane, totaling it. So the flight school I rent from only has one 172 to rent at the moment, so scheduling has been a nightmare. And of course work and life generally get in the way. But ideally I’d be flying a minimum of 5 hours a month. I’m not. If you average out my flight time from December – April I’ve got about 0.25 hours per month. That needs to change. I desperately want to buy my own airplane, and I could. Mbut Teri and I have made a commitment to not make any major purchases until our Mini Cooper and our Second Mortgage are paid off.

So anyway, on Saturday I did four laps in the pattern. I was a bit wary of the weather, there was a crosswind, and the ceilings were at about 4,000 feet. I could see in the distance various directions from the airport that there were som fronts moving about. But I was determined to fly and the weather at the airport was solid VFR. When I got to the plane, there was no checklist. Not to worry I have one on my iPhone. I did the pre-flight check, taking more time than usual making sure I physically checked EVERYTHING, twice. With my lack of flying, I didn’t want to perform any stupid pilot tricks. Inside the airplane, I adjusted my seat and went through the pre start checklist, again being very diligent. The engine fired right up and when I flipped on the avionics master switch, the new Garmin 650 that had replaced the 530, sprang to life. I checked the engine instruments, checked the AWOS and made my call to taxi:

“Pierce County traffic, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 in front of Spencer Aircraft taxiing for runway 1-7, Pierce Traffic.”

Taxiing out, I checked the brakes, and gave the parked planes a wider berth than I normally would. Everything today was gonna be nice and slow and deliberate. I got to runway 1-7 and pulled into the run up area and did my run up checks. Everything was good to go. Amazingly I had the airport all to myself. Not one person on the radio, no one in the pattern, and no one on the ground. I made my call:

“Pierce County traffic, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 Taking off runway 1-7, Left closed traffic, Pierce Traffic.”

I entered the runway, got lined up on the centerline, applied full power and started my takeoff roll. A little right aileron to compensate for the cross wind, a little right rudder, airspeed comes alive, a little pull back on the yoke and we’re flying! I had a nice crab into the wind, about 15°, and held the extended centerline of the runway. At 1,200′ I turned crosswind, at 122nd Avenue, I turned Downwind. Pulled on the carburetor heat, listened to the AWOS, Slowed the engine down to 2,000 RPM, GUMPS check, holding 1,500 feet, crap, already past the other end of the runway, throttle back to 1,500, shut up AWOS, twist of nose up trim, first notch of flaps, 1,300 feet, turn base, another notch of flaps, gliding at 70, 1,100 feet, turn final, airspeed 65kts, keep the nose down, power controls altitude, pitch controls airspeed, getting too slow, nose down, getting too low, add power, over the fence now, four red lights on the PAPI, you’re ok, over the threshold, pull the power…

This is always the moment of truth. You know when you’re fling a lot, a trip around the pattern feels like 20 minutes of your life you won’t get back. But when you have t flown for a couple months, it feels like two minutes of chaos. I wrote the bulk of that last paragraph as one long run on sentence to give you an idea of some of the stuff that goes through a pilot’s mind when he or she is preparing to land. But it’s after all that you get to find out just how much you remember. Because to be honest, the flying is a breeze, it’s the landing that counts. So where were we? Oh yeah, pull the power… Don’t forget to flare, look at the other end of the runway, stall warning horn crying, she just doesn’t want to stop flying, squeak of the main wheels settling on the runway, smooth as silk, the nose wheel is down too, keep it on the centerline, apply brakes, get off at the first exit.

“Pierce County traffic, Cessna 8-4-8-2-3 is down and clear of runway 1-7, taxiing back, Pierce Traffic.”

Carb heat cold, flaps up, elevator trim set. Awesome. Three more just like that!


Overall four laps in the pattern, some good crosswind work, my landings were awesome, I’m legal to carry passengers during daylight hours and I feel a lot more comfortable. Next up, getting my night currency back. It’s also time to add planes to my stable of flying machines. There are a few 172’s at Spanaflight that I want to get checked out in, plus a 182 that I can get my complex and high performance endorsements in.  That should give me upwards of 6 planes to fly makin the likelihood of one being available to fly much greater.

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