It’s been a year and a half since I earned my instrument rating, and since the last time I flew a plane. It only took me 18 years to get that rating and I haven’t used it once, but I am hoping to change that this summer. The last year and half has been busy, getting married, re-adjusted to family life, constantly reminding myself that I am no longer a bachelor, a sometimes ridiculous workload, and just a whole lot of “life” getting in the way of having fun. It’s spring in Wisconsin, and it’s time for some fun.
After taking some time off from flying to pay off the credit cards and other stupid “responsible person” crap, I had scheduled a flight early this morning with my old instructor, Harold Green. He had been real sick for a while, but is back to flying, feeling and looking well. When you don’t fly a plane for a while, you don’t just get in and take-off (unless you have a death-wish), you get some practice with a good instructor and let them decide if you are safe or not. You just cannot gauge how much rust has built up and it’s comforting to have a current and competent pilot sitting next to you just in case, just in case you are no longer competent.
So I got to the Middleton-Morey airport bright and early this morning, thanks to Missy, and pre-flighted the aging Cessna. It’s almost as old as me, but likely in better shape. I could have flown the shiny new Cessna Skyhawk with the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit, auto-pilot and pretty paint and interior. But I chose the trusty old 172 that has served me well in the past. It ain’t much to look at, but she flies good and always does as told.
It was cool, around 50 degrees, almost clear skies and visibility nearly unlimited, with only a trace of morning fog lingering over Lake Mendota. I taxied the plane to the end of the runway with Mario Andretti speed, for which Harold inquired if I was taxiing the plane or planning to take off directly from the taxi-way. I slowed down 🙂
I was a little concerned about the wind. The takeoff was to to west and the wind was out of the north, probably 8 knots steady, gently gusting to 15. I had nothing to fear, the takeoff was smooth and in no time we were hauling ass over the cry babies homes. Those are the idiots that built their $700k homes next to an airport and then call the FAA all the time to report noise from airplanes. Most of the time we turn to a 300 heading to avoid flying over their homes. Most of the time. Eventually they will just shut up, or sell me their house real cheap. I like the sound of airplanes.
Even though the weather was perfect and there was only one other airplane in the area, I called Madison Approach Control and requested flight following to the practice area. The air traffic controllers in Madison are excellent and I have never had a problem with them, and as expected they promptly located us on radar and told us there was nothing around us. We climbed to 3500 feet and flew west until we were just north of Mazomanie, the designated practice area.
Harold had me perform some power-off stalls and slow-flight turns, with and without flaps. It felt so good to be flying again, even when falling out of the sky in a deep stall. We started back for Morey and Harold asked me if I thought I could find the ground. That is flight instructor speak for “I’m getting ready to idle the throttle, I hope you can find a field to land in”. So he pulled the throttle back to idle as I picked an open field to land in. It really is not all that challenging in this part of Wisconsin to find a safe off-airport landing spot. I dropped the flaps and entered a 45-degree left bank. This brings the 172 out of the sky like an anchor. As I lined up for the field I was going to land in, Harold said “good” and added full throttle again. He told me to take us home, I guess he wanted to know if I remembered the way home, which I did.
Harold thanked Madison controllers for their help and they turned us loose when we were about 5 miles west of the airport. We entered the traffic pattern and I landed the plane with 10-degrees of flaps. The landing was good, “must be luck” I thought to myself. I gave the plane full throttle and once again we were in the traffic pattern, waking up the cry babies.
Harold said he wanted to see me land the plane with full flaps, which is 30-degrees in this model of 172. So I flew a higher and tighter pattern until final approach, lowered the flaps to 30-degrees, and made a steep final approach to…. Yep, another quite respectable landing. “This cannot be luck” I thought to myself, “I must not have as much rust as I thought”. Harold must have thought the same thing, we taxied over to the FBO where Harold endorsed my logbook for solo flight and told me to hit the skies by myself for some practice. He got out of the plane and I taxied back to the end of the runway.
A glance at the windsock told me the wind was increasing, probably steady now at 10-12 knots, and still from the north. The right crosswind landing has always been the weakest link in my aviator skills, and I duly noted that I better really be on my toes when I get back. Ironically, the left crosswind landing is my best point, I tend to land those better than even a no-wind or headwind landing.
The takeoff was easy enough, and despite the wind, smooth as silk. I reached traffic pattern altitude before my first turn and flew a normal “Todd” pattern, which is slightly high, 65 knots indicated, and 10-degrees of flaps. The Skyhawk just loves that speed so much, the flare and float are predictable and gentle, and a go-around is as simple as full-throttle, if you need it.
I turned final at 500′, right on the money, but got a nice jolt during the turn, compliments of the shifty wind. Flying the final approach I noticed no drift at all, which meant the wind at the ground and at 500′ were different. Duly noted, again. Expecting the right crosswind at any moment, I slowed the 172 down to 62 knots about 50′ off the ground. Nothing. A quick glance at the windsock told me I should be drifting left, but I wasn’t. The landing was as close to perfect as I can do.
I thought about doing it again, but knew I also needed to get some work done this morning, so I made that landing a full stop. I was excited and my heartbeat was up, but all in a good way. I was happy with the way I handled the plane and it felt great to finally fly again. I feel more alive this morning than I have in a while, it is truly amazing what an old Cessna can do for your mind.