It’s another post about flying that doesn’t talk that much about flying… but let’s see if I can make it interesting anyway.
Being somewhat similar, these are frequently confused with one another, not to mention that there are not a whole lot of non-German-speaking people of my acquaintance who know how to pronouce “heiligenschein” (I’m pretty sure I mangle it on a regular basis) and thus have added incentive to say “glory” instead.
More on all that later.
For some insane reason I took the 8:30 am training slot. Insane for two reasons. First, I had this crazy notion that by getting up before dawn to get on the road by 6:30 so I could be there by 8:30 I’d be flying in less than blast furnance temperatures - not a chance this summer. Second, crazy because that meant I had to get up way early instead of sleeping in and catching up on my rest.
At this point in my tailwheel training things were starting to get routine. Two hour drive: routine. Changing radio stations on two-hour drive: routine. Pre-flighting the Citabria: routine. Waiting for J to show up: routine. Actually, he was on time in this instance - I think I was the first student of the day. To be fair, he does try to be on time, and lately he’s been getting better.
Getting into the airplane - well, that’s still not quite routine. You know, I should just go there a little early one day and practice getting in and out of it without banging bodyparts into hard unyielding bits. Lately, it looks like someone has been assaulting my kneecaps. So many pretty colors! Who would think that a wood and cloth airplane has such hard bits in it? It does - there’s some metal in it’s framework, mostly around the cockpit. I’m slowly discovering it inch by inch.
I asked Jay if it really was possible to get out of one of these in a hurry. He said yes. You tend to get banged up and maybe scraped but if you feel a need to exit prior to landing you generally have incentive to hurry and enough adrenalin so you won’t feel your injuries, if any, until later. I asked if he had ever had to do that. The answer was a firm “No” of the sort that let you know that he has hoping he would never have to do that. Then, as we were adjusting our seat belts, headsets, and other stuff he proceeded to relate to me interesting, amusing, and terrifying stories about friends of his that had done things like land a Pitts biplane upside down in a cornfield and the pilot having to punch her way out through the windshield. While hanging upside down in her seat harness. Because fuel was running out of the ruptured tanks onto the ground, the remains of the airplane, and the hot engine. :eek: (see, it’s not just me telling stories!) But she was fine in the end, and it didn’t catch fire after all.
And on that happy note I started the airplane and taxied over to the ramp to do the by now very routine engine and flight control checks. J confirmed he was still doing radios so I could concentrate on the flying. We were using 36, that is we were taking off towards the north, which is the long taxi before take off route. Along the way I asked “Cushing or here?” and he said “Cushing”.
Once last check left, right, and up for traffic and we pulled out onto the runway. Definitely improving somewhat, only a little wobble-and-twitch when the tail came up but more and more I was getting it straight down the runway, at least on take-offs. Up we went and away we went into the blue sky and morning sunshine.
Not that it was a pristine sky - you never get those in a hot, Midwestern summer. You can see the humidity in the distance. But there was an actual horizon and at least the sky was more blue than white.
Given how we were approaching Cushing we needed to overfly the airport to get to the other side of the runway to do a proper traffic pattern. I probably haven’t mentioned it in too much detail, but the standard traffic pattern consists of left turns and you assume that’s what you should fly unless told otherwise. At towered airports the traffic controllers may bring you to the runway in all sorts of odd pathways, but then, it’s their job to tell you how to get where you want to go. At untowered airports - and all the airports in this saga have lacked towers and air traffic controllers - you’re supposed to use the standard pattern (unless you’re having an emergency). In theory, this will allow everyone to know where everyone else is. In theory. In practice things can get… interesting. Given that Cushing was busy in its own way, and quite a few of the things that flew there didn’t have radios, it was kind of important to obey the traffic rules and keep a sharp look out. So we did.
As we’re flying along, turning onto the downwind and away from the sun, J points out our shadow on the ground. There are two reasons for that - one, if there’s another shadow near your shadow you need to take a good look around for that other guy flying, 'cause he’s probably real close to you. The other reason is that it’s neat to watch your shadow scooting along the landscape.
This particular morning, there was a third reason - there was a bright, bright halo around our shadow. Hey, I knew we were good, but I didn’t know we were so good as to rate a halo Which I promptly misidentified as a glory. It wasn’t a glory, it was a heiligenschein. Which was just so cool. Normally, folks just read about optical effects like that in books and maybe get a picture of them - we’re out here making one! Whoo-hoo! As J is always saying, "How cool is that?"
Then it was back to the routine - set up to land, move your feet, move your feet, >bump< move your feet. Wheel landings in particular, so in addition to move your feet it was also push the stick forward to keep it up on the mains, then let the tail settle in its own time after which you pull the stick back to your belly to keep it on the ground, using your remaining airspeed to push the airplane down onto its wheels and improve your ground control.
Do you know how hard it is to write about the utterly routine? Go back and re-read the proceeding paragraph 9 or 10 times. That’s what I was doing, over and over again. No falling off the runway. No plowing new paths through the local crops. No scaring of the hang gliders although we sure scared the dickens out of a few ground squirrels that could be seen scurrying around under us, vainly trying to out run this giant, roaring flying thing that was even bigger than the local hawks. 13 line ground squirrels, to be precise, which look a lot like chipmunks but aren’t. Which also tells you something about just how low to the ground you sit in a Citabria, that you can see and identify speeding rodents. When they figure out they can’t out run us going forward they make a 90 degree turn and zip off to the sides. Between us, the tow planes, and the gliders the little beasties spend an awful lot of time running away from Big Scary Things. They are exceedingly fit and trim ground squirrels, let me tell you. I’m sponsoring a couple of them in the next marathon scheduled in Chicago.
Then it was back to Morris for a break. Take offs and landings are the most intensive parts of flying and lately that’s all I’ve been doing. The ten minute flight back to Morris was downright relaxing. Just set the trim for the desired airspeed, the engine to the proper rpm, and lean back with your hands behind your head. Minor course corrections are just a small tap of a rudder - nice, smooth air. A little break before tackling the slightly harder pavement landing.
And even that is starting to come together. Didn’t feel J on the controls at all that time and the nose stayed pointed pretty much down the runway the whole way. If you averaged out the left and right excursions. But they were getting smaller as I was learning to push harder and more decisively with my feet. I didn’t have to think as hard about doing the right thing.
As we’re pulling off the runway I hear a cellphone ringing in the back of the airplane - J’s next flight. Not a student but some sort of promotional flight in the Stearman over some event in the town of Morris. I parked the airplane and as soon as I shut down J squeezes out and goes trotting off to his next assignment. For me it’s more routine stuff - writing down my time in the airplane, checking the fuel, and so on. I watched the Stearman take off, then I stopped in the restaurant to cool off and have a mug of something cold to drink.
I was in the outdoor seating when a worried looking woman asked me if I was a pilot. I said yes. She nodded “I saw you get out of that little orange and white airplane.” Turned out her husband was having his very first lesson and though she didn’t say it, I could tell she was fretting. I proceeded to tell her how nice a day it was, how smooth the air was and how excellent it would be for a first flight. I was sure her husband was having a good time. I think she found it reassuring that a cute little thing like me was able to handle those scary machines.
That sort of attitude bugs me. Mind you, I don’t want to be taking anyone up in a small plane who wouldn’t enjoy it, and some people will simply never like them. But folks worry so damn much. (Not sure if reading these little stories help, though!) Partly, it’s that you never hear anything about little airplanes except that they’ve crashed, film at 5 and 10 pm. Partly, people don’t know much about flying, or anything about flying, and there’s that very human tendency to fear the unknown. I love flying. Nothing would please me more if everyone else loved flying, too. I seem to spend an awful lot of time reassuring people that it’s not Certain Flaming Death. My passengers don’t see crazy stuff - when I fly with first timers it’s close to boring. A good part of the hard work, sweat, and effort is so that they never have to see “crazy stuff” or be scared. When I take someone up for their first ride in a small airplane I want them to come down wanting more, or at least saying they had a good time.
Anyhow, I did my best to reassure her that her husband would return in one piece. Sure enough, he did - got out of the airplane positively beaming. Another convert (bwa-ha-HA-HA!)
By that time the big blue and yellow airplane with two wings was returning. Time for me to get up, stretch out the kinks, and get back into the cockpit.