Well, I made it. Last Monday I had my checkride, and I passed, so they gave me the keys. I took the bird out for an hour and a half, all by myself.
It was really great. I had smooth and precise airwork all through the flight, and flew four of the best landing patterns I’ve ever done. Too bad nobody was there to see it!
Last week I got in two more flights doing “precision aerobatics.” It was really a blast, but I didn’t much like what it did to my stomach the first time around. I didn’t barf, but it really didn’t take long before I was feeling pretty lousy, and I didn’t get to do everything we wanted to do on that flight.
But the second one was much better. I still haven’t seen an Immelman yet, but we slugged out an aileron roll, three or four wingovers, at least three tries at a barrel roll, a loop, a half cuban eight, and a demonstration of a spilt-S.
My next flight is a solo. This time, instead of practicing landings at an outlying field, I’ll have an hour and a half to work on my aerobatic maneuvers. I’m not allowed to do a split-S, an Immelman, or a spin, but pretty much anything else is fair game. I was scheduled to fly it today, but it was too windy for solos. Better luck tomorrow, I guess.
Through some combination of bad weather and bad scheduling, it’s now been a week since my last flight.
I’m scheduled to fly after lunch today, but they’ve also scheduled an occluded front and some thunderstorms to be passing by about that same time, with low ceilings and poor visibility. I’m not very hopeful, but at least I’ll be able to go in today and get some academic work done. Being scheduled to fly also means I don’t have any other duty or watch scheduled for today.
This is getting kind of frustrating. I felt like I had a really good flight last Tuesday. But at this point, my skills have a very short shelf life, and the only way to reinforce and improve them is to fly daily, if possible. That’s the way the program is designed to work. The other unfair thing is that my grades are competing with others who HAVE been flying these flights every day.
Since it has been seven days since my last flight, if the clouds miraculously disappear and I DO go fly, I’m eligible for an optional warm-up, which means the grades don’t count. I’m going to take it, if I can, and hope that my next graded flight will be before the end of the week. If not, I guess I can always do another warm-up next Tuesday, too.
It’s been five flights and almost two weeks since my last post.
Mid-stage fams are definitely tough. Gauges “malfunction” nearly every time the instructor knows I’m checking them, and my highly reliable Pratt and Whitney PT6A-25 turboprop engine “fails” at least 4 times every flight, sometimes less than a thousand feet off the ground. My gentle, stable trainer somehow manages to get into a steady-state spin and an approach-turn stall every single time I fly. But through a miraculous combination of my embryonic skills and the patience of my instructors, the engine relights, the houses in my windscreen stop spinning, and the trees start looking small underneath us again.
All this is part of a great effort to get me ready for my first solo flight in the T-34C. Before they give me the keys, they’ve got to break me down, teach me what I need to know to fly the plane out of any disorienting situation, and then reinforce that knowledge until I can do it automatically and mechanically while spinning toward the dirt at 12,000 feet per minute.
I have only two more flights before my “check ride.” On that flight, an instructor I’ve probably never flown with before will make the final judgement as to whether or not I should be allowed to take the plane out on my own.
I feel like things are finally starting to come together for me. I had a good flight yesterday. I don’t think I had a single one of the “uh… I don’t know”-moments that had plagued some of my previous flights. It’s still not perfect, but I’ve got two more flights to smooth out as many of the bumps as I can. The first one is scheduled to brief at 5:30 tomorrow morning.
The solo itself is a tremendous rite of passage in the aviation community in general, and the fraternity of Naval Aviation in particular. Most of my squadron mates say it gets a lot easier after the solo- even that the instructors start treating the students better. In any case, it should be a huge boost to my modest aviator ego…