"Student Pilot". That's what I am now classified as. A Student Pilot. Except that three weeks into the program it feels like all I am is a student. There's nowhere near enough Piloting going on. But there is a giant pile of homework and reading to contend with.
The weather this month has been awful. I have managed four lessons in three weeks, and that's it! I'm on the verge of throwing a temper tantrum every time I check the METAR/TAF. So much for spring in Ottawa. I actually had to wear my uniform sweater for half of last week because it was too darned cold outside!
The small amount of flying I have managed to squeeze in has been pretty interesting so far. The first lesson was just a bit of review. It had been about two months since I flew last, so My Instructor just took me out to the practice area and we went through the basic exercises. After that he let me do an hour of solo circuit work to let me buildup my confidence flying solo again, and then back out to the practice area for some work on precautionary and forced landings. Apologies to any farmers whose fields I buzzed.
On Wednesday this week I finally got the go ahead to go out to the practice area by myself. My first solo flight last summer was a really big deal - it was like the instructors were saying "OK we don't think you're going to kill yourself if we let you fly a plane alone, so go for it..." But it also felt like there was a little bit tacked on the end there saying "...but we don't trust you that much yet, so stay right where we can see you, young lady." Getting signed off to fly to the practice area (a good ten to fifteen minute flight away) felt like the training wheels were finally being removed!
I felt pretty nervous leading up to the lesson. I'm not entirely sure why - I am confident in most of the exercises, and have a pretty good idea of what to do in case of an emergency. I'm comfortable with radio communications involved, and in working the circuit. Nothing really to be terribly nervous about there - it was probably just the whole "what-if" going around in my head. What if I do forget something and My Instructor isn't there to remind me?
After a quick walk around of my plane for the day I had a short briefing with My Instructor, and received an "Off you go then", so off I went! I lost most of my nerves once I was in the air. Working in the Practice Area alone wasn't at all bad. I picked my area to work in, announced my intentions on the radio, and got to it.
I found it strange to be giving myself directions. Usually My Instructor tells me to do a stall or a steep turn or whatever else he wants, and I do it. Now I had to decide what I would work on by myself. I chose to start small, so I put myself in slow flight for a little while, and then recovered. Not bad. Then I figured I'd have a go at power-off stalls. I did a lookout to make sure no other aircraft were nearby, did a cockpit check, and began to reduce my power slowly, while simultaneously pulling the nose up to keep my altitude. It worked nicely. I didn't lose any height, and I waited to hear the stall horn sound. It should have gone off around 50kts or so, but by the time I reached 40kts in silence I figured something wasn't quite right, and recovered. I tried again, and once more made it to 40kts without hearing anything. Feeling spooked, I recovered again and decided to call it a day on stalls. I thought perhaps the stall speed was a lot lower because of the absence of 160lb of flight instructor in the plane next to me, but it turned out that this particular plane just doesn't like to sound it's stall horn, which is slightly worrying. It was probably a good job I gave it a rest, in hindsight.
I moved on to work on a few steep turns, which was pretty fun, although I was frustrated to find I still lose about 150ft of altitude during the maneuver, so I am going to have to work on that. After about 40 minutes out there I figured that was enough of my newfound freedom for the day, and headed back into Ottawa, requesting a few circuits before calling it a day. It definitely felt good to be flying solo, although I wasn't pleased to discover that I have apparently lost the knack of a good landing. I can land safely, and it's not terrible, but the landings are quite bumpy and lack grace so I need to work on that again. My primary goal is not to cringe when I imagine which of my friends are in the club house watching me do circuits!!
Still, hopefully once the weather improves I can start flying more and start polishing up my skills. The next thing on my training schedule is work on cross-country flights. This is rather exciting, and I'm looking forward to getting into some real flight planning.
Aside from the flying, classes are going rather well. There is a lot of material to learn, and a lot of homework to be done, but I find it nice to have something productive to do with my brain again. I didn't realise it but I actually don't mind doing schoolwork. I had been quite nervous about the math class, but I am surprised to find that I haven't had much difficulty yet. We are mostly reviewing things that I learned in high-school. It is just a matter of convincing my brain to remember them. However sometimes the professor will still go off on a little tangent and I have to look at The Newfie sitting next to me and ask "Is he still speaking English?"
Some things never change I suppose.