The first thing different about yesterday was that we actually got to fly. Somewhere I read that winter is a good time for flight training because we get clear cold days when engine performance and visibility are both excellent. That might be true most years but, I haven’t seen it around here this winter. It had been almost three weeks since I had flown. Not all the missed lessons were because of weather. My CFI and I each had to cancel one because of other commitments. As it turned out though, both those days were probably not flyable anyway so, I am still going to blame the weather. We did get in a couple ground school sessions during the layoff though.
We flew a different airplane for this lesson. This was the first time in N2378U for both Tim and I. Since the weather was so nice, we spent a long time on the preflight. It was the first really thorough one I had done. The tanks were low so Tim filled them up before we left. The third difference of the day was that I had my first passenger along on this flight. A CFI student rode along in the back seat to observe my lesson. We located a 4 place intercom so that she could listen in too. The different airplane, full tanks, third passenger and intercom would all combine to make for an “interesting” takeoff.
The first two lessons, we had used runway 27 but, today I taxied us to 24. Taxiing is getting easier. There were only a couple brief moments when I forgot that I had feet. Runup was the same as previous lessons except that Tim introduced a takeoff briefing that we will be going through every time we fly from now on. The idea is to make sure we both know what we are going to do if power fails on takeoff. Ready to go, we roll out onto the runway and I apply full power. That was the last “normal” part of this normal takeoff.
Engine instruments looked good, airspeed came alive and we hit rotate speed. Right at that point, Tim started to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. I could no longer understand a word he was saying. It seems that with full power, the intercom had too much interference to be useable. To make matters worse, the airplane just didn’t want to climb. In an email sent after the lesson, Tim had this to say; “I actually was considering scrubbing the flight. I thought we’d get high enough to come back around, land, and talk it over with the mechanic. I noticed however, that we were developing normal RPM. The lack in performance was due to (1) an older engine in this a/c, (2) a near max weight t/o, (3) a warmer than usual winter day.” From my point of view, it would have been much easier on my nerves if I could have heard what he was thinking at the time! We ended up switching the 4 place intercom with Tim’s 2 place. That allowed Tim and I to hear each other but, unfortunatly, left our passenger with no audio.
The rest of the flight went pretty well and we got a lot accomplished. On the way to the practice area, we worked on climbs and descents with and without flaps. We also did some climbing and descending turns. Tim even had me make some turns without rudder to demonstrate adverse yaw. I must have liked that just a lttle too much because, for the rest of the flight, I couldn’t seem to get coordinated. I kept hearing the phrase that so many other students have reported hearing from their CFIs: “MORE RUDDER.” The thing is, I could have sworn I was coordinated but, when I’d look at the ball, it was never in the center. I have to work on that.
Next up was turns around a point. The turn part went fine but I just couldn’t keep my altitude constant. So, altitude control is another thing to work on. We followed the turns with my first attempt at slow flight which, of course, needed even MORE rudder.
The time really went by quickly this lesson. Before I knew it, it was time to head back home. We did a little more pilotage on the way there and, since Campbell was between us and the Northbrook VOR, we tuned in the nav and practiced tracking to the VOR while correcting for wind drift. It was just a short introduction to radio navigation but I am looking forward to doing more of it. My first approach to runway 24 was high so, I got to do my first go around. The second time I got us close to the ground and Tim did the actual landing. I know that, from now on, we are going to be doing a whole lot more work on those approaches and landings.
I noticed that I was tenser during this lesson than during the first two. I caught myself really gripping the yoke hard a few times. I have read accounts by other students that mention the same thing happening during their first few hours. I can’t speak for everyone but, in my case, I think it is because I finally grasp that I am not just along for the ride but that I am expected to actually learn to control this machine. The combination of learning the physical coordination necessary to properly use the ailerons, rudder, elevator and throttle, all at the same time, while also being taxed mentally by the new concepts and numbers that are coming at me so rapidly, and still looking outside for other traffic, builds up to overload pretty quickly. I know that it has only been 3 hours and that it will get easier with practice so I am not really concerned about it. For now though, I am mentally drained after a lesson. I welcome comments on how others have dealt with this tension and how long it takes to get over it.
As a side note, my wife and I attended the Campbell holiday party last weekend. It was a good chance to meet some more of the airport regulars. There is a real sense of community at the airport. We are looking forward to getting more involved socially.