So I hadn’t been flying so much for a while, first because of the stupidly cold weather grounding C-FLUG, then after, because I was working on Redwing because someone who matters may have offered to look at revisions.
But I’ve got back in the air, three times in the last week. Jill says C-FLUG missed me. I did some circuits, and the second day, once I was less out of practice, Jill went with me and commented she wished she could make all her landings like the three of mine she saw. I bet she tells all the girls that though.
Anyway, I’ve been on a couple of cross country flights with Jill in her Land Africa and her Pietenpol, to Lake Manitoba, and Beausejour, respectively. She let me fly and navigate both times, so it helped keep me in practice, but both times were impromptu, so I didn’t get any navlog planning done, and just flew by pilotage. It helped that it was familiar territory, with easy landmarks.
So when I planned to fly to the Carman Fly-In, June 8th, it was in a direction I’ve only been once during the day, not the area I spent most of my time training. I did my best to prepare, and got a weather briefing. They said there was a slow moving trough approaching, patches of showers, etc. I could see as much when I got to the airport, but the visibility didn’t look any worse than the ten mile vis I’d dealt with once before.
That day I went out in ten mile visibility, it was haze. Today it was different. It was virga and rain, and wind. When I took off, there was no wind on the ground. But when I hit about five or six hundred feet, I hit the turbulence, and it was rough. At one point, early on, one gust startled me enough to make me gasp. I honestly started thinking, holy shit, should I be turning back and not going?
Part of my decision to keep going was that Jill was flying ahead of me, and knowing that she was making it through that mess in an open cockpit plane that was lighter than C-FLUG. I looked around and the patches of rain were still only patches – there were spaces between them. The air was rough, but after the first few buffets, I kind of assessed how I was handling it before deciding what I was going to do. What I can handle is often a fair bit more than what I think I can handle, and I’m not the pilot I was when that one gust knocked my wings 45 degrees on my second solo cross country. I’ve got maybe eighty hours of flying since then, and I realized that yeah, it does make a difference.
I decided I’d keep going, as long as I was fairly sure I could turn back if I got someplace I couldn’t get past. The air got rougher when I got close to the murky patches of rain, so I stayed away from them. I flew around them, thinking all the while, as long as I can see a certain distance, I’ll keep going. And that distance was probably a fair bit more than the distance that would have been in a more experienced’s pilot’s head, but it was less than it would have been when I first got my license.
I didn’t get lost. I ended up significantly south of my intended course, trying to avoid the patches of dark rain, but I never hit a point where I was expecting a landmark ahead and didn’t eventually spot it, unless I could see it was hidden in one of the dark patches. That certainly made navigation more difficult, but I managed.
It was definitely a learning experience, and it’s built up my confidence. When I thought back, it really was the worst weather conditions that I’ve flown through thus far as a pilot. I’ve flown through visibility as bad, but through calm air, and through rough air, but with good visibility, but this was both. It would have been nice to have had a 172 today, that wouldn’t have been buffeted around quite as much, but still, I learned a lot about where my limits are and what I can handle, and it really is so much more than what I could when I first got my license. I’m really pleased with myself.
When you learn to fly, they talk about personal limits a lot. Or at least my instructor did. So I always have that in mind, and on the one hand, you don’t want to get yourself into anything you can’t handle, but on the other, you don’t learn if you never push your limits. And that’s what time-building is all about. Practice, and learning, and experiences like this are a necessary part of the learning process.