Updated: Feb 7, 2020
It was 5:00 am when my husband startled me awake. “Where’s your phone? Is it right here?”
“Huh? What?” I mumbled, scrubbing the sleep from my eyes and wishing he wasn’t SO awake.
“Your phone,” he repeated. “Yep, here it is,” he said, handing it to me.
“What?!” I grumbled. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“Today’s the day,” he smiled. “Turn on the plane.”
As my brain screamed, “Go back to sleep!” my mind worked the buttons for the automatic engine warmer and battery charger so the plane would be sufficiently warmed and ready for start-up on a typical winter day in northern Michigan.
Crawling out of bed, my body continued to protest that I needed another hour, easy, but we were flying TODAY!
My brain would not stop. “Please, please, please let this be the day we can fly!” I prayed.
Today’s the day…
You can’t imagine the conflicting emotions you feel as a pilot that is so near to their 90 days when you hear those words.
Your 90 days means getting your 3 landings in to ‘stay current’ or call the instructor and schedule a flight together.
Is today the day? You start questioning whether or not you’re ready to fly.
1. Can you recite your all of your checklists?
2. Do you know your emergency procedures?
3. Are you feeling well enough?
4. Are there too many other things cluttering up your mind?
There were a handful of times we went to the airport with the intention of flying since November, and each time we were unable to go for some reason or another. Weather moving in, ceilings too low, snow piled up in front of the hangar, icy runway, etcetera.
So here it was… ten days before I would have to schedule a ride with my instructor if I didn’t get my three landings in. My instructor would be away on vacation until March, so if it was possible, I needed to get this done!
The question was, could I do it? Would I remember everything I needed to remember? Would I be safe to fly? Not only to keep myself safe, but my passenger and the people below me as well.
These are all things you must consider before flying, and the decision should not be taken lightly.
I recall an acquaintance poking at me about flying an airplane while I was still a student pilot. I let his jabs go and go, telling myself that he was just playing with me. It was when he expressed how he couldn’t imagine flying with me as the pilot that my temper snapped.
I responded, “If you don’t think I am a responsible pilot… that I don’t think about people’s lives every time my wheels leave the ground, then you are MISTAKEN!”
I don’t know about other pilots on the planet, but I didn’t take MY pilot training lightly. As the pilot in command, you accept responsibility for the lives in and out of your airplane. And let me tell you there were MANY times I considered not accepting this liability and discontinuing my training.
Sorry, rant over... back to TODAY’S THE DAY!
I stood in awe wondering when I last saw a sunrise while the rays broke over the horizon of the frozen lake. It was as if it had never missed a day shining.
When I left the house, I swear the birds were singing their Spring songs even though it was only the beginning of February, and I marveled at how the little tweeters knew that Punkxsutawney Phil had predicted an early Spring the day before.
It was February 3rd, and I had until Valentines Day to get my three landings in.
My stomach was in knots all morning, and my head ached throughout the workday due to a restless night of sleep the night before.
Could I fly?
Probably, but I might be a little behind the airplane, so I did everything I could think of to clear my head.
On the way to the airport, I mentally ran through the checklists before the flight.
After inspecting the plane for flight, I asked myself again, "Could I fly the plane?"
The answer was YES! I was ready.
The sky was clear and blue with big, white tufts of clouds way up high.
The air was warm for February, and for the winds to be calm on such a warm day in the winter seemed a miracle. Not having a crosswind to deal with while nearing the end of my 90 days was like a bonus, and I needed every advantage I could get.
I performed the run-up at the end of the taxiway, checking the plane’s gauges while at a specific engine rpm, then made my announcement over the airport frequency before spooling the little Cherokee up for take-off.
She rolled over the HOLD lines, and as soon as I got her nose straight down the centerline, I nailed the throttle.
With the cooler temperatures, Roxy got her engine revved up to rotate speed pretty quick. I watched as the airspeed indicator clicked off the numbers… 40… 50… 60… 65 knots and her wheels were already feeling light on the runway as her big wings took the air.
I eased back on the yoke with one hand while the other worked the throttle, and held my breath as the wheels came off the pavement.
I don’t think I will ever get over the thrill of the wheels leaving the ground!
As Roxy pulled her weight away from the surface of the earth, the breath finally escaped my lungs and all the weight of the day, and all the troubles from the days and months prior seem to leave me.
There’s this feeling of, “Oh, thank God!” that comes over me at take-off that’s hard to match. And every time… at this moment I wonder what I was so worried about piloting the plane.
Flying is liberating.
Yes it can be difficult, and yes there is a lot of liability riding on your shoulders when you are the pilot in command, but it has got to be the biggest thrill I have ever experienced.
As the altitude indicator ticked off every foot we climbed from the ground, my husband clicked a photo of the river nearest the airport. A beautiful, snowy scene reminding us it is in fact February, and winter would be hanging on just a little while longer.
Remaining in the pattern to hammer out my 3 landings, I stated every step of the prelanding checklist out loud not only to verify my competence, but to bolster my own self-confidence through the first landing sequence.
Engine to 2000 RPMs, wings level, confirm pattern altitude. Announce location and intentions, complete the prelanding checklist, and confirm all gauges acquiesce.
Beam the numbers on the downwind, lower speed to 1500 RPMs, pull 2-notches of flaps, trim the plane for 75 knots airspeed and look for the runway to appear at a 45 degree angle out the left window before turning base.
Continue monitoring altitude and airspeed before announcing a turn to final.
I watch the airspeed indicator and keep Roxy’s wings level while clicking on the PAPI lights to confirm we are on glideslope, then ride the thermals over the treetops just before the huckleberry swamp.
Roxy flexes her wings on final, gliding down to the runway. Crossing over the threshold, she reaches her wheels down to the pavement as I slowly pull her nose up, up, up… until SQUAWK!
The wheels make contact, and we have safely landed.
Quick now, clean up the plane. Take her flaps out, reposition her trim, and nail the throttle for a “Touch and Go.”
Roxy climbs out and we’ve got one landing done.
Roxy is flying at peak, and my mind is humming with purpose. Like a machine, I work through the maneuvers, confident and methodical.
After her third landing, I wheel Roxy to the gas pumps and filled her up in hopes of flying again tomorrow.
Wow, what a rush!
Good for another 90 days.
Thanks so much for reading!
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