Luxury, for me, is being able to fly two days in a row.
After a full day of flight training prior, ending in a sweat-removing shower and plunge into sleep, I woke up early on Sunday morning, had breakfast, found clean clothes, got in the car, and drove back to Morris, Illinois for more of the same.
The weather was actually slightly better than the day before. Not quite so hot, just boiling instead of vaporizing, and the air was marginally less hazy and gritty.
I had been hoping to do my usual efficient thing and pre-flight prior to the instructor showing up, but apparently the key to the hangar door had gone missing. Bummer. Most likely, someone had pocketed it after putting the airplane away and forgotten to drop it off at the front desk (yeah, I’ve done that a few times over the years). How annoying. The airport office (not the flight school - these are the guys who run the airport and gas truck) didn’t recognize me as a regular and they were understandably reluctant to let me in. J showed up - they know him - and with his OK a key was sent along with the gas truck to the hangar.
Go back and re-read the whole bit about pre-flighting and stuff so I won’t have to re-type it I was also getting the hang of standing on top of the landing gear wheels and using a dipstick to check the fuel quantity. You wouldn’t think something like that would require practice, but you have to learn the best spot to stand, and what you can grab for balance and leverage when unscrewing/screwing the fuel cap or dunking the stick.
We pulled out the airplane and got in, at which point I noticed that yesterday’s seat cushion was still damp. :eek: ewwwwwwwww… Presumably, it was my own sweat. I hope it was just my own sweat. Ewwwwwwww… Nothing to do for it but get in and strap down, though.
Taxiing was definitely improving, I was moving the airplane at normal speeds and with much greater precision and confidence. I was even remembering to hold the stick back to my belly without being reminded.
The first take off of the day was somewhat less exciting than the day before. Among other things, this time I stayed on the runway. I don’t know about you, but I feel so much better when there’s someone in control of the vehicle I’m in. Anyhow, it was up and back to Cushing, and this time I locked onto the heading and found it on my own with minimal problems. On the way there, in between review of slips and such, I commented that it wasn’t quite clear enough to see Chicago 60 miles (100 km) away. J said “Oh, you can see the city from here. My plane.”
I yielded the controls and he swung the nose of the airplane around “See - we’re pointing right at the Sears Tower”.
I’ll be darned… we sure were! It was a tiny, faint, blocky rectangle out in the mist, with a few smaller blocky things around it, but if you knew what Chicago looks like from the air it was recognizable as such. And as often happens in summer the city was surrounded by this mucky brown haze. Ewwwww… I breathe that during the week. I commented that days like this made me feel bad about not changing the goldfish bowl more often when I was a kid, which got a few chuckles out of the back seat.
There was a brief discussion of go-arounds, which are a straightforward procedure but J warned me that the Citabria had nose-up-and-veer-left tendencies that I needed to be ready to compensate for. He asked me a few questions about ground effect and its effect on airplanes to make sure I understood that concept as well.
When we arrived at Cushing the tow plane was out on the runway and they were setting up a hang glider on a tow dolly. Ah, I was going to have company!
Sunday was mostly the same as Saturday, but working on refinement of my new skills (and possibly a couple old ones). Initially, I wasn’t doing actual landings. We’d circle around for a landing - with J having me do things like set the trim then take my hands off the stick to show that I had properly done this so the airplane would maintain a steady airspeed - come down, but not actually touch down. We’d skim the ground at slightly greater than landing speed while I worked on keeping us on a straight line, then at the end of the runway we’d go back up and do it again. A good landing starts with a good approach, and J was definitely beating my approaches into shape. Finally, he said one more like that and then we’d definitely make a full landing, but this time I’d find it was a lot easier to get what I wanted.
So, round we went and I set it up to come in, no longer quite so bothered by the trees and powerlines, but still making sure we cleared them. J’s in the back saying “We’ll touch on three… one… two…three.” (bump) “The tail comes down on three… one…two…three…” with various taps on my shoulders to guide my feet. You know, it was a lot better, though our trajectory still wandered a little off the ideal.
We taxied back to the take-off end of the field, past the tow plane, which was still setting up. We positioned the airplane so our propwash wouldn’t interefere with the hanggliders, who were still setting up for launch, and making sure our path didn’t cross that of any pedestrians, of which there were several intent on various errands.
Full power and off we go. Another take-off and landing. When we turned to downwind again both of us noted that the towplane and glider were off the ground and rising. J said he’d keep an eye on them and I looked for other traffic. Aircraft towing stuff and gliders both have priority over us, so it was up to us to stay out of their way, which we did. As it was, the tow plane beat us back to the runway.
This time, on the way back, J takes the airplane for taxi and tells me to help watch for ground traffic, which showed no signs of diminishing. We go up and around again (Watch your altitude. Watch your speed. Climb a little. Don’t get too far out. Trim the plane. Let me see your hands. What’s the airspeed? Re-trim. Let me see your hands again, above your head. That’s better. Don’t forget to turn…move your feet, let me see you move your feet, harder…), land, taxi back on the edge of field because someone else is put-putting the opposite direction over the grass, then wait for someone else to take off.
One more check, the coast is clear, and off we go again. And again.
I may be clocking 80-100 mph on these lessons, but it amounts to going nowhere mighty fast. At least geography-wise. Knowledge-wise I’m covering lots of territory.
Then J calls it quits and time for a lunch break. Off we go, back to Morris with the window open, my elbow propped on the sill, shooting the breeze and telling tall tales about pilots we know, and back to a landing. Park, get out, stretch, and head off to lunch.
And the afternoon was rinse and repeat.
Although in one sense we kept doing the same thing over and over - take off and land - J kept adding things on top to keep it more interesting.
On the way out to Cushing again J had me review slips and skids. Normally pilots try to avoid slips and skids in turns but this time he had me doing them delibrately, and extremely. So, instead of a nice, neat, coordinated turn making a smooth arc and keeping g-force oriented in a floor-to-ceiling axis we were delibrately skidding to the outside of some of these turns (the equivalent of taking making a turn in a car and running off the outside edge) and slipping inside the others (which is sort of like turning to sharply in a car and running off the inside of the curve). This is also where you can feel the g-forces of a turn pulling you to either the inside or outside of the turning arc as well, which feels different and odd. (I don’t do these with passengers with queasy stomachs).
Back to Cushing. I’ve become well-trained to trim the plane on the downwind. I get the “Show me your hands. Move your feet, give me some rudder action. Move the stick, rock those wings. Keep those feet moving” as we pass by the touchdown point. Reduce power, turn left onto the base leg. We’re both watching for traffic. Down we come, over the trees and powerlines, towards the runway end then over it. My feet are moving, my feet are moving… (bump) and we’re back down. This is getting easier.
By this time I’m starting to feel downright cocky. It must have showed in my flying - I’m pretty sure I was yanking the controls around and getting sloppy on airspeed - because on the next downwind to base turn J pulls me back with a caution: “You might be flying a nice, docile Citabria but if you get careless it can still hurt you. Never forget the seriousness of what you’re doing.” Yeah, that brought me up a little short - I don’t get those sorts of warnings often. It’s good I’m feeling confident and even a little aggressive, but J has a point. Flying the turn from downwind to base I aim for the perfect airspeed and descent. Sometimes, flying smooth and non-fancy is more impressive than the flashy stuff. Don’t try to impress with tricks the man who is paid to fly upside-down and sideways, you ain’t got the goods to do that (yet).
Which is sort of a good point about flying in general. Yes, it is loads of amazing fun, but there’s always that undercurrent of risk. I may be cackling with glee but I’m also well aware that I’m a visitor in the sky, the ground is very far below, and very hard. Most of the time things go very well, but if they go wrong, they can go very wrong very quickly. Avoiding trouble is the best plan.
Which is not to say that we got totally glum - there was still room for chatting on the downwinds. J was trying to sell me (again) on taking the upset and recovery course he offers and discussing the appeal of the Decathalon, which he said was very much like the Citabria but with a little more engine power.
Up again, around again, and as I go to reduce power J pulls the throttle all the way back “Show me best glide and land the plane”. Ah, yes, the no-power landing drill. Knew that was coming at some point.
Funny thing about landing without power, at least in the drills. Because you’re so concerned with conserving altitude it’s not at all unusual to come around to final approach and find yourself higher than you would normally be. It’s counter-intuitive for those who don’t fly and are half-certain it’s the engine that holds the airplane stable in the air. It’s not the engine, it’s the wings and tail, and they’re more efficient than most people think. In this exercise you do tend to lose altitude in the turns, but even so, I wound up high on final. J in the back says “Slip it - lose that height” so I do, getting up back onto a more normal track, but with a little extra altitude over the obstacles. Once past them, another brief slip, then a touch down.
(I’ve also heard that overshooting the field - that is, coming in too high and flying past the good touchdown zone - is a not-uncommon way to get hurt in a real engine failure scenario.)
Taxi back, then we have to wait because now there is a hang glider coming in for landing and, again, they take priority over us. The glider is close enough I can see the pilot is looking at us, no doubt somewhat concerned about what the airplane on the runway is about to do. I pull off into the grass to give him all the room he wants. The glider comes in right over our heads, his shadow sweeping the ground. His “landing gear” comes down and he lands a couple hundred yards/meters ahead of us, then shuffles off the runway.
It was tempting to go, but we do another 360 in place, scanning the sky, just to be on the safe side. Oh, look, it’s another one coming in. This one - looks like it might be a woman - also sails directly over us. J asks if I know what to do if one of them starts to land on top of us and I say sure, kill the engine immediately - in fact, my hand is hovering over the mix knob, just in case. There’s no way to tell the skill of a glider pilot with a glance, and accidents do happen. I didn’t add and hope the prop stops horizontal because there’s no need to bring up such gruesome things as a hang glider falling onto a vertically oriented prop blade. That would ruin everybody’s day.
Fortunately, and as expected, the glider comes in without incident, although on her landing “roll-out” she tripped and fell. I could sense J shifting around in back, and he asked if she was OK. I say it looks like she went to her knees, but the kite didn’t go all the way over and a minute later she stands up and shuffles off the field. J (apparently) leaned back in his seat after I reported that, and so did I because I was ready to leap out and lend aid as well if needed. In fact, so was everyone on the sidelines watching, a couple of which had already started out towards the glider.
A couple more landings and it was back to Morris. Got to enjoy the day a little bit on the way back. Which is an odd statement, because it was beastly hot - sweat kept trying to roll into my eyes as well as down my legs - and hazy. About halfway through the afternoon J had commented “Oh, look - we almost have a horizon!” and it hadn’t gotten any better. I’d say we were looking at the scenery, but you couldn’t see much of anything past 5-7 miles, which is not a great vista. On the ground, buildings and trees and stuff tend to obscure just how cruddy the air is, they distract you from the sludge, but aloft you can really see it. And you can also see how the brown icky gets thicker as you get closer to the ground. Straight up the sky was closer to blue - that’s the signature of a ground-hugging smog layer, which was unsually thick that day. On a certain level, I didn’t care - the air was relatively smooth and calm, just a few bumps and thermals, and not much wind to worry about. Not a day for sightseeing, but very good conditions for intensive training such as I was doing. It was a little quieter in the airplane that it had been earlier. I was getting tired - Mr. Boundless Enthusiasm behind me might have been, but showed no sign of it - and sometimes it feels good just to slide along above the ground from point A to point B listening to the steady drone of the engine. Sort of a cool-down at the end of a workout.
Navigation followed landmarks - take off from Cushing, head towards the tower over there, pickup the road running by the quarry and follow it until you see Morris coming out of the haze. Had a go at a full-stall three-point landing on the pavement, then taxied back to the hangar. Put the airplane away and filled out the paperwork on the flight. J and I discussed the day in a short post-flight briefing, filled out my logbook, and I staggered off to my car. Sunday was over, and I had to get home and clean up because the next morning it was back to work week reality, staring out a window at glimpses of blue between skyscrapers instead of at play in the air.