More than two months after starting what should have been a simple oil change, I flew again!
The temperature hit a high of 43 today, and while that wasn't enough to fully melt the skating rink in front of my hangar door, it was enough to shrink to a navigable one foot wide strip.
It wasn't quite as easy as just pulling the plane out of the hangar and going flying, though. The battery needed to be replaced as I had removed it and put it on a trickle charger in preparation for just the kind of weather we had today. The light winds were out of the south, helping to explain how we went from single digit temps to a nice 40+ degrees in one day. The sky was blue, and there was an unfamiliar burning orb in the late afternoon southwest sky. All conditions were favorable, which was an absolute must-have considering the circumstances: more than two months since I've flown, a lot of recent repairs and in-work jobs going on with the plane, and a general lack of trust in my overall relationship with Papa.
If nothing else, today was intended to be a chance to re-bond with my airplane and hopefully regain some of my faith in both the airplane's and my ability to fly, neither of us having had any sort of recent experience at all.
Getting out of the hangar was easy enough, but that's far less than half the battle. Coming out of the hangar gets an assist from gravity since the floor is slightly downhill, the better to drain any unwanted water. It's the going back in that's tough. Uphill, of course, and ice underfoot, ruining any purchase the soles of my shoes can get on the pavement.
Surprisingly, the engine gasped into life fairly easily, needing no more than three or four rotations of the prop to light up. The GPS was a different story, again playing the fool by refusing to locate more than a couple of satellites. 'Twas to be 2D navigation for us today which, us being surrounded by thousands of hectares of perfectly flat farmland, was no great problem. Still, one likes to have all of the gadgets performing to their capacity, particularly when one is flying with a little more trepidation on board than is the norm.
The taxiways weren't completely free of the remnants of our weeks of ice and snow covered surfaces, so I taxied out at a sedate pace, that being just fine with me as a result of the rudder pedals feeling so unfamiliar under my feet. I made a few small turns on the way down the taxiway in hopes of regaining some of the feeling in my feet before having to trust them to perform their duties during the takeoff roll. Being in no hurry to put my full faith in the total health of engine and airframe, I also spent a few minutes longer than usual doing my engine run-up. There was an airport acquaintance waiting behind me in his Ercoupe, but let's be honest: if he was in any kind of a hurry, he wouldn't be flying a plane that tops out at the same speed I routinely cruise the highways on my way to work. Traffic permitting, anyway.
You can only put it off for so long, though, without receiving taunts from the gang, so I worked up my nerves and called the tower for takeoff clearance. I rolled onto the very end of the mile long runway, making sure that every inch of it was available should something go wrong during the early takeoff and initial climb. The plan was to climb as the all-around best speed of 100mph in order to get as much altitude underneath me while still in the environs of the welcoming runway. None of that turned out to matter; we shot down the runway and climbed out over the white fields with nary a burp from the engine, and all parts (to the best of my knowledge) remaining attached to the airplane.
My normal routine when flying for the first time in ages is to head out west and just fly around regaining my feeling for the airplane. It was odd, though. I never realized how often I look at the directional gyro, and now that it's gone it's somewhat disconcerting to look for it and see nothing but an empty hole. I'm not sure when I'm going to be able to buy the Dynon to replace it, but I suppose I'll get used to navigating by reference to the magnetic compass and the GPS, assuming the latter gets over its fit of pique.
It never takes long to get comfortable with the flying, but the threat of the landing is always hovering over my head keeping me from truly enjoying the experience. As is typical, I figured I'd better head back and get it over with. I called the tower and told them I was inbound for a series of stop and goes, figuring I'd get in the three that the FAA considers to be sufficient evidence that I can still fly well enough to carry a passenger. They're easily impressed, I guess.
The first landing was a combination of feeling like we were going way too fast in the pattern despite only 120 mpg showing on the speedo and crawling along at a snail's pace as we flew down final towards the runway. The crawl of the final approach rapidly becomes a "Whoa! Here it comes!" as we entered the flare over the runway, but the touch down was smooth and we only had a couple of little bounces. There was a lurch to the right as I momentarily diverted my attention to the flaps to make sure they were fully retracted, and off we went for number two.
The second landing was under a bit more pressure as there was a Piper Arrow on final behind me and I wasn't sure he fully understood that I'd be stopping momentarily on the runway, but it turned out just fine. The third was a piece of cake.
All that was left was to get Papa safely back in the barn and that turned out to be easy enough. I slipped a little bit as I pushed Papa over the ice strip, but the momentum I had built up early was enough to carry us onto the dry pavement inside. A cursory inspection showed that all of the parts were in fact still attached to the plane, so that was a relief.
I hope it's not another two months before we get to go up again!