Thursday, November 09, 2006

My new yardstick

If you never had a bad day, you'd have no standard (yardstick) to measure good days against, and today I got myself a new yardstick.

Let me start off by pointing out that I'm tired. Thursday afternoon is when the work - night school - work - work - night school - work cycle catches up with me, and I get very, very tired. But... when I see a clear blue sky and moderate temperatures (in NOVEMBER no less!!) I just have to fly. I wanted to gas up anyway in order to start my newly designed fuel log with a known quantity (i.e. full tanks), so I decided on a quick hop over the MadCo.

Preflight and start went well enough, although I was a bit surprised to see that I hadn't unplugged the preheater when the temperatures came back up early this week. I called the tower (they answered this time), gave the altimeter a nudge up to the 905 ft mark, taxiied out, and made a normal takeoff. On the way over to MadCo, I attempted a couple of recovery from unusual attitude exercises (you never know when you might run into some wake turbulence and one should always be prepared), but neither attempt was very good and I quickly gave up on that idea. Things were going fairly well other than that, although I did notice that I was having a little trouble with my radio communications, stumbling over my call sign and things like that.

As I was approaching MadCo's right downwind to runway 27, it felt like I was too low. Chalking that up to being a bit rusty, I proceeded into the pattern, and soon found myself on final. Final felt a little off too, as it seemed that even at 80 mph indicated things were happening very slowly. That, of course, was a result of the 10 - 13 knot headwind. The flare and touchdown were OK for a wheel landing (not my strong suit by any stretch of the imagination), but on rollout the nose took a frightening dip towards the runway. This was caused by the shoes I was wearing, which aren't my normal flying shoes. Rather than the light running-type shoes I normally wear, I was wearing clunky, heavy hiking boots. The brakes are pretty sensitive, and the bigger, bulkier shoes caused me to accidentally apply more brake than normal, and in the (for me) unusual attitude of a wheel landing, the unintentional extra braking caused the nose to dip precipitously. I easily recoverd by getting some weight off the brakes and a titch of back stick, though.

I pulled up to the pumps and parked next to a very nice RV-8 that was already there. Gas was $3.44/gallon, which is not too bad.

After tanking up and a brief chat with the RV-8 pilot (who had thankfully had been in the FBO paying for his fuel when I arrived and probably didn't hear my landing, during which I had squealed the tires so much that it sounded like a cat being pulled through a taffee machine), I decided that my icky landing called for a couple of stop & goes to get in some practice while we still had nice weather. At the end of the runway, a quick check of the altimeter to set UYFs field elevation showed me to already be at almost 2000 ft! Ah-ha! That explained why downwind had felt so low! The barometric pressure today was 29.72", and the altimeter was set at 30.72", which is nearly 1000' off. The pressure on Saturday when I flew last must have been almost exactly an inch higher than today, and when I nudged the altimeter up to 905', I didn't notice that it was actually 1,905'. D'oh! Another rookie mistake! Yawwwnn.

After two acceptable stop & go landings, it was time to head back to Bolton. The routine of configuring the plane for the various flight modes and the management of other little tasks had come back to me pretty quickly despite having not flown much recently and the plane felt great in the air, but I still managed to bounce the landing back at Bolton to the degree that I needed a quick burst of throttle at the apex of the bump to recover the landing. It was pretty windy, though, and wind is always a great catch-all excuse, often cited as being culpable for a multitude of sins. Surely an exuberant bounce on landing can be attributed to a 10 knot wind, can't it? And it was a crosswind too, after all.

Back in the hangar, I yawned mightily and decided that if nothing else, I got some good practice in today, and set the bar low enough that there's no way my next flight can't be an improvement. But here's the best part: it was still a blast and left me smiling! Having a couple of sub-par landings in an RV is like a golf pro hitting a couple of bogies at Augusta: it's mildly disappointing, but you're still damn glad just to be in the game.

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