Daily Pilot's Journal

Read the complete day-by-day flight log of an actual student pilot, from the first takeoff to the signing of his private pilot's license. Written promptly at the end of every flight, each entry is completely unedited - detailing the successes, failures, and mistakes we all encounter along this long road.
Day 6 - Steep Turns, Rain, and More Landings
Thursday, 6/08/06 9:00am - Grey and cloudy, this time with a low ceiling but above that I could see patches of bright blue. Showed up just as Andy was taxiing back down the echo ramp from his lesson. Did a full interior/exterior preflight as Stan sold a "Journeyman's package" over the phone for $199.00 and started her up. Before taxiing I smirked and told Stan "Forget all about all those shitty landings I made on Tuesday, because today's a new day". "A new day for more shitty landings" he joked. "Of course", I told him. "Sounds like your flight instructor sucks" he laughed. I radioed ground, taxied, did the run-up, and took off flawlessly.

Today I got an impromptu lesson on weather - about as close up and personal with some cumulus clouds as you can get. Stan had me flying toward the stacks at 1100 ft, just skimming the bottoms of the clouds only 50ft above us. A darkish layer of clouds rested across most of Long Island, but ended immediately at the beach. The entire LI Sound was clear and blue as could be, but then the clouds started up again at the beaches of Connecticut. This was due to the dew point: the temperature at which air cools to form moisture. The water temperature stays fairly constant, but the ground cools down at night. In the morning while the ground is still cool clouds are more likely to form. There were no clouds over the water because the water temperature is higher than the ground temperature. As the ground gets warmed by the sun, the clouds burn off.

I was amazed at how flat the cloud bottoms were all the way across Long Island - they were puffy and random up top, but completely level and flat on the bottom as if someone had just cut them off. Stan informed me that was where the dew point was: high air warmer, low air cooler, dew point in the middle. A few minutes later, Stan pointed out a rain shower... and that was something really cool to see. Over my right shoulder I could see a dark cloud dumping a curtain of water on one particular section of land... yet everywhere else across the island was remaining dry. I could see the cloud moving, covering everything beneath it with water. The curtain of water looked pretty wild. Stan let me fly through the bottom of one cloud just to see what it felt like. Ten seconds of complete non-visibility as small droplets of water beaded on the windshield. "Non-VFR is not supposed to do that, so we never did this" Stan said. "Did what?"

Crazy-looking rain sheets
Stan had me practice some 45-degree turns, and for the first time I felt my own prop-wash. He probably forgot I'd never done steep turns before, but from talking to Jerroll I knew what to expect. We then did a few stalls, which were less scary than I'd imagined them to be. At one point Stan pointed the nose as far up as it would go and I could feel the aircraft shudder as the wings lost lift. Drop the nose, apply power - no problem, stalls were pretty easy. Good to practice though, in case you stalled low to the ground.

Ten miles out of Bridgeport we lined up with runway 6 and radioed for clearance. We were told runway 29 was active and were vectored over to the far side. My first landing was fairly decent with me making the same mistake of pulling up too hard on the yoke at the last minute. After a second (worse landing) the tower radioed to switch us over to runway 6. I was having a hard time hearing the instructions - the volume seemed low and the guy was talking very fast. Runway 6 was more familiar to me so the approach was a little easier but I still screwed up the actual landing. The hardest thing it seems I have to overcome is pulling up too early (and too vigorously) on the yoke once I get over the runway numbers. On one landing I was too conscious of this and pulled the yoke too late - Stan had to add power quickly and we bounced the landing. On another I slipped too hard and we landed almost on a side angle. I was surprised the plane still rolled forward, the angle was so great.

Halfway through another crosswind the tower told us to switch back to runway 29. This required a really quick downwind and an immediate base leg, so Stan took over and did that for me. Once on final I set to full flaps and came in a little easier than before - a semi-decent landing except for my rudder problems. Stan announced we'd do another two touch n go's before heading back to Farmingdale.

After making one more ugly landing with an early flare, I finally nailed the last one. I came in relaxed and easy, wings level, speed good. I adjusted the nose of the plane perfectly for the crosswind by dipping the right wing and applying just the right amount of left rudder. Lined up dead center I remembered not to flare early (or heavily) and just gently floated the yoke back at exactly the right time. I rode that wave of lift until I felt the plane drop a few feet then eased back even more gently a second time to flare the nose and allow the aircraft to drop smoothly to the runway, wheels rolling straight and firm. Stan hadn't touched the controls. His hands were in his lap and his feet were on the floor, nowhere near the rudder pedals. It was my first unassisted landing.

"Good job!" Stan exclaimed, and he was clearly excited for me. "That was a good landing, I'm proud of you! Great way to end the day, let's get out of here".

Feeling really good I thanked him and was extra careful not to screw up the takeoff. Turned left to the Northport stacks and strained to hear the Farmingdale tower operator as I radioed for landing. It was at this exact moment, in the 7th hour of my flight time, that I realized I had a volume knob on my headset. I cranked it up and suddenly I could hear everything very clearly. I guess in an effort to learn the hard stuff sometimes you gloss over the simplest of things.

Back to Farmingdale, where our base leg was extended so we could watch a Challenger jet land. Flew into some slight condensation that in another hour or two would probably be rain, but landed without incident. Once again I flared a bit early, but nowhere near as bad as I'd been doing all morning. It seemed windier when we got back. Stan let me do the post-landing checklist for once and allowed me to guide the plane back into its mooring with the push-tool. I tied it off and locked it up. "I saw improvement" Stan told me, and then once again congratulated me on the unassisted landing.

Flying is about two things: relaxation and confidence. Knowledge and skill are key, but if you have those first things, the whole experience becomes easier.

Flying hours today: 1.6       Total: 7.1

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