Saturday, June 9, 2012

First Stage Check.... Disaster Much?

May 16, 2012
Cessna 152
Paine Field
1.0 hours 3 landings


First stage check, took me off guard, I didn’t know that after each stage of flight training one would have to demonstrate their skill (or lack of) to a chief flight instructor. So after I soloed, and my CFI mentioned it to me I was a bit panicked. That being said, I was also excited to be flying with someone new, to meet another pilot, and a female one nonetheless.

I wouldn’t say I completely bombed the stage check, but I definitely did not do as well as I’d have hoped. In fact, it was definitely on the top 3 worst flights of mine. At first, I was completely confident in my ability to do whatever was needed. I preflighted no problem, called up ground/tower/checklisted it up, and took off with no hesitation. She took me off guard by asking a simple enough question I knew the answer too, “How far do you need to be away from the clouds?” Yet, for some reason I spaced. Completely. My heart started to race, and I noticed I was losing altitude; I pulled back slightly and remembered we were still in our airspace so 152 applied; 1,000, 500, 2,000. I knew it was 500 below, but was it 2000 or 1000 horizontal? So I took a guess, and of course, I was wrong. Instantly, my confidence level started to drop.

I was asked to do slow flight. The winds were strong making me nervous, but I tried to focus. Getting into slow flight was always an issue for me, but once I was in it no problem. Here, is where I completely take the blame for what happened. Normally, Ryan will sit there patiently, either waiting for me to get into slow flight, or give tips. Before I was even comfortable enough in my set up, I was asked to turn to the left. I wasn’t ready, and I should have done what a pilot would have done, and said I wasn’t quite set up for it just yet. Instead, I did what a student pilot would have done, I nodded and obeyed. I kick myself for that decision, thinking back its still painful. When she wanted me to turn to the right, I was still turning left, not fully set up rudder wise, and when she asked me to turn, I did, and before I even was able to process what was happening, she was grabbing for the controls. I had stalled. I was more shook up by her being so frantic at reaching for the controls than the plane actually stalling. Throughout my whole training, Ryan has never jumped at the controls like that. He is so chill and relax about everything, which is why hes a great instructor for me because I learn best with relaxed people. These are training planes, and from what I’ve been told if you let go they basically straighten themselves up. I wish she would have let me get us out of the stall instead of jumping right in. I know how to get out of stalls. But, from her perspective I would have jumped in to. After all, I’m just a student pilot with a few hours so I don’t blame her. After that however, any confidence I had was completely wiped out, I was shook up and the whole beginning had been a disaster. I was happy, excited and nervous all the way until then. After that, I was hopeless and cold; I just wanted to go back. Who was I kidding; I wasn’t ready to be in control of an aircraft on my own. Not yet anyways. What was the point in continuing the stage check? Really, I couldn’t mess up any more than I already had. I self-doubted myself up there like it was no one’s business. And it was heartbreaking.

After, the controls were passed back to me, she proceeded to explain about the strong winds (which I already knew) and then asked if I knew what had happened, to which, now instead of answering confidently, I answered with a question at the end. Describing the planes left turning tendency, and the rudder not being fully applied, turning the ailerons one way, the plane going another, losing lift... right? She nodded, and basically repeated what I said but more in detail. Then she pulled out the power and said my engine had quit. I remember instead of enthusiastically answering I mumbled out the procedures, wanting to get it over with. For some reason, I said 67 knots instead of the 60 for glide path. Idiot move, since 67 is my Vy. I was just so hung up on what had happened that my mind wasn’t in the right place. Not to mention I noticed her hand nice and snug next to the yoke, like she was prepared for me to mess up again. All I could think about was, that I had become that student pilot they were afraid to fly with. Awesome. After that she had me do some stalls. The one thing that I breezed through effortlessly. But again, feeling unsure, I said aloud each step before I performed it, in my attempt at not messing up again, and hopefully putting her at ease.

The radios were busy, and the controller got confused a couple of times about what planes were where, which in turn confused me. He first told me to enter on base and then proceeded to say enter on downwind. His confusion made me instantly realize how I take ATC for granted, thinking they’ve got it all under control. I did my 3 landings, having to tell tower where I was twice, because they at one point said there was 3 planes in the pattern, when I only counted 2 (as with the chief flight instructor), and another point he had me confused for another plane. As if a confused controller was what I needed.

I don’t know why, but she told me to not turn crosswind at 500ft from the TPA like I was used to, she told me to wait a bit longer, and in turn it threw me off. Instead of being at the TPA when I turned downwind, I was at it half way through crosswind. I ended up continually climbing and I was too high once I hit downwind. Trying to compensate for that, along with dealing with a confused air traffic controller, and not having the traffic in site/ trying to find the plane on final so I could turn base had me all sorts of messed up. It was a miracle I managed to land the damn plane. Minus my airspeed being off, my CFI always gets on me about that, and I even knew to watch it before I was in flight. Airspeed always gets me.

Even though it has nothing to do with this post, I love this photo.

When we got to her office, she started with saying “overall good flight”. Ha! Yeah right! I don’t think I could have been more of a disaster if I even tried. I knew it was the whole, say something nice before you break them down kinda of thing. So, I smiled and asked her on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the worst, how bad did I do compared to the other students, honestly. Not for my pride, but because I wanted to know if being this horrible was normal. And she sat down, leaned back and thought a second before answer, “I’d give you about a 6 or 7, we do it on a scale of 1 to 5 here, and I gave you a 3.” I was surprised. If I was in her shoes, I would have given myself a 4 on both scales (theirs 5 is the worst). But, I managed to make it right in the middle, not good, not bad, just neutral. Hearing that, made me feel much better, and relax slightly. It meant that she had to have flown with someone worse than me. And so long as I wasn’t the absolute worst, I could get up and try again. Though the overall stage check wasn’t bad (what I had to demonstrate) I definitely was glad it was over, and thankful to be flying with my CFI next time. And even if the chief flight instructor made me more nervous than ever before, and though I really am not looking forward to flying with her again(because of how much I sucked), she’s actually a really nice person and did keep me at ease towards the end. For instance, when I had landed and taxied back to our spot, I mentioned to her how I wasn’t strong enough to push the plane back into its spot. To which she told me, that it doesn’t really matter. All I have to do is sit there and act pitiful till some macho man somewhere appears out of nowhere to come help me. It worked for her every time she said. The thought made me laugh.

I was a complete utter disaster that flight, but I left in good spirits because the chief flight instructor was such a nice person. It really does make all the difference who is at these flight schools.

(I’ve been SO busy this quarter I’ve hardly had time to write this up. And even worse, its been 3 weeks since I last got to fly. But, study for finals I must! I’m in no rush for my private pilot’s license, I am however trying to knock out my AA before spring of next year. I won’t be flying this week or next… but two weeks from now I will be. And I’ve actually contacted a few loan places, so fingers crossed I get a loan and can fly almost every day of August.)

Total cost invested thus far: $5950