Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lost & Found

I normally do not need a reason or destination to jump in the airplane and go flying. I am happy flying nowhere on a local flight and just enjoying the fact that I am above ground looking down at the scenery passing under my wings.

But for this winter, I actually had both the reasons and destinations, plural. I wanted to a) get to know my new local area better, and b) get myself familiar with the typical glider x-country routes so that when I actually fly them in the glider, I do not feel lost.
So on my next flight I was planing to fly over Milton, detour over Glen Eden ski hill and then head for the training area for this school, which happens to be right over my glider club. This would be the "get to know your area" type of flight.
The flight was booked for 4pm, but it took a while to get the plane ready and I did not take off till 4:30pm. As I circled over my subdivision in Milton and headed west, the sun was low on a horizon and shining straight into my eyes.

I was flying south of 401 in the direction that should have taken me somewhat near my glider field. One of the most easily identifiable landmarks that is used both by the flight school and my club is "the tanks" - a collection of while tanks that really stand out from the darker background and thus are visible from a great distance. Except in the winter when everything around the tanks is also white!
I did bring my GPS on that flight but it was sitting in my bag as i did not think i could possibly get lost so near my gliding club. And I was not really lost as I could see both Hamilton and Cambridge, so I knew my approximate location, but where I was exactly I could not tell. I decided to get my GPS to find out for sure. As i settled the unit on the panel, it told me I was right over Rockton.
I looked and sure enough, right under my left wing was the glider airfield! Having seen the familiar landmark, all the other landscape features fell into place in my brain as if by magic and I did a few circles over the field finding all the other landmarks that only a few minutes ago Iwas not seeing. I even saw the tanks. Funny how that happens.
I flew for a bit heading west of the field until weather started closing in with ceilings dropping North and West of me. I was also getting quite cold as the plane was quite drafty and temp outside was -15C. So I turned around and headed for Milton. I was pretty sure I knew where the field was, but dialed it on a GPS just in case. I was almost on top of the field when I finally saw it. My circuit and landing were uneventful. Next weekend it was -25C and I did not want to get out of the house...

The Quiet Day

After passing my rental check flight, my next task was to fly some circuits. As I was watching weather and available time slots, I discovered the downside of Burlington (compared to Buttonville). Having only one paved runway and with Wx being rather unstable, there was always strong x-wind on the days i could fly. While I would think nothing about x-wind while flying the glider, I was not yet confident enough to try it in the Cessna. All I needed was a quiet day to get my confidence back.

Waiting for such day, I cancelled two bookings and was optimistic for the 3rd one, but having arrived at the airport, I discovered the wind sock pointing straight across the runway. Since I took a day off from work hoping to fly, I decided to fly anyways - with an instructor. The next hour was a wild ride as we did circuit after circuit in x-wind that came close to capabilities of our aircraft. I am not sure that flight did anything to improve the finesse of my landing, but it certainly did miracles for my confidence.

Couple of weeks later, it was January 2011 when I finally got my quiet day and did an hour of circuits. My landings were alright according to an instructor that was watching. That day I drove home with a huge smile on my face.

One page, 3 years

2010 was a year of too much unwelcome stress, too many changes and not enough flying. But some changes were good. As much hassle as it was moving from one suburb north of Toronto to another suburb west of it, several months after being in the new house, I discovered it was 10 mins drive from Burlington airpark. How that fact escaped my attention prior to moving to Milton I would not know, but I was ecstatic to make that discovery.

Burlington airpark is the best of both worlds: it is small enough to still have the nice relaxed feel of my previous little airport on the hill (Holland Landing), but it has a large and active flight school with the fleet of rental Cessna's.

Living that close to an airport with Cessnas available for rent, I wanted to resurrect my power flying for the winter season. Once glider season wound down and the glider was packed for the winter, I made a checkout booking for Dec 4.

Before the checkout, I spent a day reviewing Cessna manual, my old training notes and relevant checklists. My power flying logbook had 3 years worth of entries on one page - I expected to be rusty and was fully prepared to have to come back for another checkout flight as I did not think I'd be flying good enough after such a long break.

The school impressed me to no end with the details of their ground knowledge check and detailed checklist explained to me by instructor. It was more full some than any check flights I have experienced before. Looking at the checklist for the in-flight portion, I had no expectations of doing them all satisfactory as it was almost 2 years since my last flight in a Cessna. One part of the checklist was flight into controlled airport and communications with controllers there - THAT I knew I would do well. Having trained at the controlled airport, radio work is natural to me and all the procedures come back instantly. The landing part I was not so sure about..

To my complete and utter surprise, I did very well on most of the items in the test, including landing at Hamilton (my first ever visit there) and satisfactory enough on the remaining few (lfull load check) that my instructor signed me off for full rental privileges. He did suggest that I fly some circuits by myself to polish off my landings before flying with passengers again, so my next task was to fly some circuits.

I was driving home after that flight feeling very happy but I did resolve to try my best to never ever have 3 yrs worth of flying on one page in my logbook...