Grabbing my flight bag from the truck; I slung it over my shoulder and closed the door. Turning I stopped and looked at the FBO, took a depth breath and smiled. I’m back; after two years away, I’m finally back to train again.
Today is a monumental day for me. After battling breast cancer and struggling with the FAA to get cleared to fly, I’m finally a student pilot again.
I have to admit, I’m a bit nervous about remembering everything. I’ve studied on and off over the past year, but not steady like I probably should have done. I didn’t want to waste time if the FAA chose not to clear me, so it was a bit of a struggle trying to focus.
Two weeks ago when I signed up with my new flight school, I buckled down and started reviewing everything from the beginning in my Gleim Study Guide. I also have the Sporty’s “Learn to Fly” on-line classes I’m watching to supplement my studies.
There are a lot of things I remember, some I’m a little hazy on and some that I just plain forgot. The good news is that some items that I learned for the sake of the test are concepts that are more clear to me now going through them a second time. With the addition of the Sporty’s videos, it’s wonderful to see theories and practice come together while watching them rather than trying to grasp a concept in the air while controlling an airplane. With these, I can watch, rewind, listen and watch again to ensure I understood what was being said and that my brain actually engaged to store it for later use.
Walking into the flight school after being gone for so long is incredibly exciting. I’m flying out of the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport, and it’s a beautiful facility. I’d practiced landings here plenty of times, but never been inside.
My flight instructor is just coming in from another flight and hands me the log book for the plane. “Go pre-flight and I’ll meet you outside when I’m done.”
I hesitated for a second, “Okay.” I guess that means he trusts after all my previous hours that I should remember how to preflight. I should.
He said he had called for gas, and that they should be coming to do that while I’m pre-flighting.
Walking out onto the ramp, the Cessna 172 that I’ll be flying today is sitting just out to my left. I start pre-flighting as I’m walking up. Nose, tires don’t look low; I scan down the right wing to look at the lights, the pitot tube isn’t clogged, the curve of the wing is smooth. As I walk up to it, I reach out to run my hand along the edge of the wing to see how it feels. To touch a plane again that I’m going to fly is intimate. I whisper to it as I’m walking around it, “Look at you, you’re going to be my beautiful bird today. It’s been a long time for me. Be gentle with me today, I’m a little nervous and I might forget something.”
I sit my bag down near the wheel, open the door, slide the seat back and assess the instrument panel. I find the checklist in the side pocket, and the POH (plane operating handbook) in the other.
Deep breath and I start going through the checklist. It feels like old times again. It’s coming back to me as I begin each step.
They come to gas the plane as expected during my pre-flight, and I stay back out of the way as they proceed.
I finish pre-flighting as my instructor comes out and begins to ask me questions. I realize he’s assessing my knowledge. We load up and I begin the start up procedures. Master on, throttle adjusted, mixture full rich, turn the key and she groans and sputters. I put the key back to stop and wait so as not to stress anything. He says it might need to be primed once. I twist the prime lever back, let it fill and push it back in. Twist it back to lock it in place. Feet on the brakes, turn the key to start again. This time she groans, sputters and vroom and the engines going. I adjust the throttle so she’s just above idle. Avionics on. I listen to the instructor explain the communications system set up in this plane and listen to Com2 for the weather information. Once I get the barometric pressure, I set the altimeter so that I have field elevation correct. Verify the heading indicator by the compass. I finish up the check list and radio. He corrects my radio announcement. I’m a little rusty. I pull her out, and begin to taxi.
He shows me where to set up to do the run-up testing prior to departing. I parked in the wrong direction. Awesome way to start out! Not too easy to turn a plane on a dime in a run-up area, so I stay where I put it and finish the checklist.
I pull us back onto the taxiway and stop at the hold short line, check for traffic both ways, radio my intended departure and pull out onto the runway.
This is a huge runway and it turns out that I’m glad it is. I pull out, line up, push in the throttle and get a little too much right rudder on that first go and in a crosswind, I’m off the centerline. Crap! I think to myself. My instructor says, “Line it up, you’re fine.” I get it corrected and back on center, power is coming up, rotation speed is achieved, I pull back on the controls and we’re airborne.
In the crosswind, I can feel the plane drifting and the wings tipping back and forth a bit. I’m on the right rudder and trying to keep her level. We’re climbing. I’m working to get the attitude correct for best climb rate. I get her there and trim.
Wow! I just put a plane in the air again after being grounded for two years. I can still do this! It feels good to be in the air again. It’s a beautiful day. A bit windy, but no clouds anywhere to be seen.
It’s so beautiful from up here. It’s like leaving the safety of the nest to spread your wings and explore. You get a different perspective in the air. I’m climbing to 3500’, and the view is incredible.
I have to tell you that sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the view when you’re trying to remember everything you have to do while you’re PIC (pilot in command). Flying the plane is the easy part. It’s all the other stuff you have to know how to do that keeps you busy. Scanning for other aircraft, listening to the radio for other traffic, checking your heading, your altitude, your inclinometer, adjusting your trim, your angle of attack, your speed, your rpms and then the instructor starts asking me if I remember how to do certain maneuvers. “I think so,” I said.
I had to demonstrate slow flight, slow flight with flaps, stalls, and steep turns. I did really well after all this time. I was very happy with how I was able to control the plane and maintain my altitude. I even saw traffic a couple of times before my instructor saw it. I felt like I was doing a good job of splitting my attention between the controls and looking outside the cockpit.
When it was time to head back, he shows me a lake and says that it’s about 8 miles to the southeast of the airport. He asked me if I could see the airport, and I immediately looked to my right and pinpoint the runway. That made me feel good that I spotted it so quickly.
We have a strong wind today and I have to aim the plane to the right of the lake to track across it. I focus on tracking correctly and work to line up where I can enter the downwind for runway 23. I’m getting ready to land a plane for the first time in two years!
I radio and enter the pattern on the 45 degree downwind for runway 23. My altitude is 1700’, pattern altitude for EQY. As we get close to the end, I begin easing back on the power and put in 10 degrees of flaps. I’m looking over my left shoulder so I can line up my 45 degree turn for base. It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, but the nice thing is that I’ve landed at EQY lots of times in the past and I’m familiar with the landmarks. There’s a rock quarry on the end of 23 and I know that I make my turn over it. I begin the turn and radio my position. I add another 10 degrees of flaps. I’m descending at a good rate and my speed is where it needs to be. I begin my turn for final and line up with a bit of a crosswind, add in the last 10 degrees of flaps and radio that I’m on final. I have to adjust for the wind as I continue descending to stay on centerline, watch my speed and the runway getting closer. I watch as it widens in my peripheral and begin to flare, keep holding back and she settles down.
Woohoo!! My first landing after all this time and it was good! I can breathe now. I think I quit breathing about the time I was ready to turn base. We are on the ground and I did it! My first flight back and it felt good, really good. I’m smiling as I pull off the runway.
It’s still as incredible to me as the first time I ever flew in a single engine plane. I still hear it call my name and long to be in the air. Today I was a bit nervous for my first flight back, but I did it and it was successful. I walked out of the airport tonight with a spring in my step. The weight of the last two years faded behind me, and I’m back on track again. I can’t wait for my next lesson.