It all started out innocently enough. A simple cross country from TTA to EXX. Last night I did the planning TTA -> LIB -> EXX. This morning, I got the weather and winds, and finished my wind drift calculations, Visual checkpoint times and fuel burn. All was looking good, I was ready to go. Then I hear from the briefer, “Looks like LIB Vortac is out of service today….”. Damn it. Also the weather was showing Few clouds all around hanging out at 4000 ft. I wanted to cruise at 4500. Not that big a deal because they are quickly moving out the area and will probably be no factor… but that Vortac being out of service puts a crimp in my plans. In a word, frustrating.
I arrive at the airfield and start my preflight while my instructor finished up with her current student. Preflight went well and my instructor started going over my navigation log while I finished. She asked me to do another quick weather profile as she finished with my calculations then I hear “Stop, looks like you used LIB Vor. I wanted you to plan direct. I don’t think I told you that and with LIB out, this is no bueno.” Welp, best laid plans….
Plan B, Advanced landing techniques which include soft field takeoffs and landings and short field takeoffs and landings. And since we have the airplane for a good bit today, we will do some hood work. I am still short 2.6 hours. We spend the next 20 minutes going over the techniques that I need to employ for short field and soft field work.
As we taxi up to the runway, my instructor takes the controls and begins to demonstrate a soft field take off. 10 degrees flaps, yoke all the way back power smoothly input. As the front wheel comes off the ground, she release a tiny bit of back pressure then the mains lift off the ground. I notice the crosswind feels much greater than we had numbers for. I shrug it away and pay attention as she takes me around the pattern. This in itself was a weird feeling, she hasn’t taken me for a ride in a long time. It was kind of peaceful.
As previously reported by one of the other pilots, it was pretty bumpy. I sit there as she completes the pattern and demonstrates a soft field touch down in a crosswind. As expected, she did wonderfully. I thought, ok, not so bad.
As I taxi on to the the runway, full swagger in place, reality comes crashing inward. As I try to copy what I just saw, I had to have help on both the rudder and the yoke. I haven’t had this much help in a long time. It seemed like a lot went sideways, literally, very quickly.
As we turned onto final, I had everything setup nicely. As we approached the runway, I added 1200 rpm like I was told and tried to hold the float. As we plopped down on the runway in a less than graceful fashion, She commented that we probably just got stuck in the mud. We discuss things as we taxi back and she remarks that with the gusting/variable winds it probably isn’t a good day to be starting this training for the first time but I convince her to let me try one more.
This time things went even worse. Stall horn blaring, sliding quickly to the right side of the runway, trying to correct, feels like we are syncing and thoughts of ending up as a pile of aluminum were front and center on my mind. My instructor quickly helped correct the situation and at that point we decided… let’s go do some hood work. Normally I might groan, especially with the turbulence but I was all for it at this point.
The hood work was the only thing I did well today. Considering all of the turbulence, I kept us within standards for altitude and heading. I was able to complete 360 degree turns and even VOR work. I did slip up at first on tracking the inbound radial after tracking the outbound radial. I understood what was going on in my head but didn’t actually change the VOR Dial to track the inbound. As I got about a third of the way through the turn, I realized it and made the correction and got us turned and tracked. My instructor commented on that part of the failure but seemed pleased with the rest of my hood work. I did have to be prompted a few times about our airspeed getting close to the yellow mark. With the turbulent air that we were flying in, that would be a no no. The point was well received and overall felt pretty good and oddly comfortable under the hood. Maybe that is a good sign for my instrument rating after I tame the PPL beast.
So we head back to TTA to make a couple of crosswind landings. My first landing, the slip was terrible and needed help. The landing sucked.
The second approach was much better but as we touched down, I landing on the downwind wheel which could be disastrous under the right circumstances.
I learned a lot today, especially about my abilities. Honestly, the short field takeoff scared me. This means I have a lot to work on and hopefully we can try again with out the 10 to 15 kt gusts with nearly 12 kt crosswind. Right now I am blaming the the wind.
Even though it was a relatively bad day of flying for my ego, I still got to fly.