Friday, March 09, 2007

Back in the air

I finished up my remaining tasks for completing the annual today, and dropped the logs off for the sign-off from the AP/IA that I use to perform the inspection. The sum total of parts this year was less than $20, so this is by far the least painful annual ever, at least fiscally.

So, what to do with an airplane fresh out of annual, on a day that hit 60 degrees, 10 miles visibility, and 6 knot winds? I thought about that for a nanosecond or so, and shockingly arrived at the idea of actually flying the thing.

This would be my first flight in nearly two months, a nerve-wracking thought in and of itself, but it would also be the (gulp!) dreaded first flight after annual. This is the flight that I always second guess and over-analyze to the point that I'm halfway convinced that parts of my plane will be raining from the skies as they shake themselves loose. It's never happened, of course, but the nagging doubt is always there.

After an extensive preflight (it might seem counterintuitive that one of the most detailed preflights that I do all year is right after the most detailed inspection the airplane will receive all year, but after having panels off and pieces/parts removed and replaced, it actually seems more likely to me that a problem will crop up in flight) I made my first takeoff in what seemed like a very, very long time. With a light wind from the left, I had a little bit of early swerving, but I settled down pretty quickly. Once clear of the runway, I climbed at a speed that would give me maximum altitude with the least amount of forward progress, the thinking being that I'd like to stay close to the runway and have altitude in the bank if something untoward happened to the power source. As I turned to the west, I made sure to stay within gliding range of Columbus Southwest, a grass runway airport 2.5 miles to the west of Bolton. I wouldn't really want to land on what was probably a soggy, muddy quagmire, but if push were to come to shove, I think I'd probably be more amenable to it. It's not far from Southwest to the paved runway at Darby Dan, and from there it's only another handful of miles to MadCo.

Everything ran fine, so I stooged around at 4500' for 20 minutes, savoring the feeling of finally being an aviator again. I could only delay the inevitable challenge of landing for the first time in ages for so long, so I finally worked up the nerve to head back to home base. The first landing was not so bad, although I was surprised at just how fast the runway was coming at me as I reached the numbers. It will take awhile to get acclimated to the speed again, I suppose. The landing itself was adequate, but I flared high and it seemed like I must have dropped eight to ten feet before I finally felt the reassuring bump of the wheels touching down.

I wanted to get at least three landings in before I could start to feel at least somewhat competent after the long hiatus, so it was off for another lap around the airport. What a fine decision that was, I thought, as I greased in the second one. Just to prove that it wasn't a fluke, I pressed on to the third. Well, that didn't go very well. Now, the story I'm using if queried by witnesses is that I was ensuring that all of the pieces/parts were firmly re-attached to the plane by stress testing it on the runway. You know, to shake anything loose in a spot where it could be easily retrieved. Yeah, that's the story: "I meant to do that." The tower controller knows differently, of course, since he actually heard me squeeze out a terse "six-papa-golf-going-around damn it" (all one word, with the expletive being sotto voce) at the top of the, uh, test bounce. Good practice, that recovery from near stall speed with full flaps hanging out in the breeze, even though it wasn't planned that way. Or perhaps especially because it wasn't planned that way, I suppose.

The third landing was a superb on-the-wheels greaser. Always one to quit while ahead, assuming I can ever actually get ahead, I headed up the hill and put her back in the barn, all pieces still firmly attached. Oh, and nothing had fallen off of the airplane, either.

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