So my last post, I wanted to quit. I desperately wanted to quit. I felt so frustrated with myself, with my inability to land, and my seeming backslide in progression. I didn’t quit though. I have actually experienced these identical emotions of frustration and discouragement before with many other challenging endeavors in my life, and I have beat them and pushed forward. In the past situations, the key to moving past these hurdles and plateaus was to examine my own performance and ask myself two relevant questions.
Am I training consistently? Am I training often enough?
In the past, my plateaus were strongly connected to inconsistency in training. I found that being consistent in training lead to consistent improvements. In addition, I have found that increasing my frequency also led to great improvements in bursting through plateaus.
And so as my frustration with flying became seemingly insurmountable, I once again asked myself these two questions. Am I flying consistently? The answer was a clear “Hell No”. Even ignoring the fact that I took almost two years off, my summer flying has been horribly inconsistent. I can’t take all the blame for this one, as June in the midwest consisted of almost daily thunderstorms. Then question number two. Have I been flying often enough? Nope. Can I up my frequency? I could. And so, as much as I was ready to throw in the towel, burn my log book, and never look back, I decided to first improve my frequency and consistency and see what happened. So I scheduled 3 more flights in a week span.
The next flight was in almost identical wind as my previous flight. I kept choosing 6pm flights in hopes that the traffic would be low and the winds would be calm, but these winds were a menace! “It’s good,” My instructor said to me. “You need to practice in this anyway.” And so up we went. We stayed in the pattern and did crosswind landing after crosswind landing in strong and gusty winds. It sucked feeling so inept at something I thought I once had. But I also realized that if I suck at something, the only way to get better is to embrace my suckiness. Even though my instinct is to avoid things I am terrible at, the only way to ever improve is to face them, and keep sucking at them, over and over. And that’s what I did. We did crosswind landing after crosswind landing in strong gusts. Little by little we broke it down, and worked on it. By the end I was feeling a lot better about them, and things were making a lot more sense. This lesson went a lot better than the last one. I called AWOS afterwards to see what we were flying in and it was 15 gusting to 20 crosswinds. Yikes. No wonder it felt so challenging, these were above my normal flying winds.
My next flight was a Saturday morning at 8 AM. I like early morning and later evening flying times. You would think that the temperature at 8 AM would be cool and comfortable, but it was already almost 90 degrees outside, and the humidity was out of control. The winds were strong again too, and once again a frustrating crosswind, but nothing like the last two. And so, once again, up we went in the airplane. I had read a lot about how higher temperatures affect air density and thus airplane performance, but I was surprised how obvious this fact became when I was actually flying. We raced down the runway and I pulled to rotate and the airplane barely wanted to lift off the earth. We flew into the pattern and the airplane would barely climb. The controls and everything all felt mushy and weird to me, as opposed to the crisp responsiveness of the airplane in the relatively cooler weather. And to think, it was only 8 AM too. I couldn’t imagine how much worse it would get as the day progressed and the temperature rose further. But despite the heat, and the humidity, we went at it again. Take off after take off. Landing after landing. My biggest problem was rounding out and flaring the airplane at the last 10 feet above the runway. My instructor continued to break it down piece by piece, and patiently guide me, despite my frustrations. Slowly my landings began to suck less. I left feeling better about things, and he was once again talking about soloing.
I was back at the airport the very next day, Sunday Morning at 8AM. My third flight of the week. Consistency was up. Frequency was up. My instructor Joe asked me if I was ready to solo. I said “maybe”. My landing skills seemed to come and go at their own whims. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself and get frustrated all over agin. There was no wind today and so it would be the exact opposite of everything we had been practicing the last 3 lessons.
And we went up into the air. My first landing was great. Back up into the pattern. Second landing was great. One more time. Third landing was great. It was so easy in no wind. This made sense. And then he made me pull over, he jumped out, and sent me off on my own. He said to try to do a couple of landings, and if it went well I could keep going as long as I wanted.
I was nervous until the second he was out of the airplane. Then I was on my own, and I had too many more important things to focus on than my nervousness. I had to taxi to the runway. I had to do the runup checklist. I had to do all the radio announcements. There were already two airplanes in the pattern and that would complicate things. Then, completely forgetting that I was alone, I pointed the Cessna 152 down the runway, applied full throttle, and set the airplane flying into the air! Wow that airplane lifted so easily without a second person in it! There were three other people in the pattern now. I had to spend all my energy looking for other planes, maintaining proper radio communications, and just flying the airplane properly, that I didn’t even have time to be nervous. Suddenly, before I even realized it, I had just landed the airplane safely and smoothly on the runway. “GOOD LANDING!” I heard my instructor exclaim on the radio. Flaps up, full throttle, and back up I went. The flying felt pretty natural. The real challenge was constantly looking for all the other planes in the air who were staying in the pattern with me. After 3 landings I wasn’t ready to stop. My instructor had pretty much trusted me and left me to fly on my own now, and so I kept at it. It was stressful but exhilarating. I finally felt that joy again in flying that had been buried and forgotten under the stress of lessons. After about 7 landings on my own, I finally decided to quit while I was ahead, pulled off the runway, and taxied back. Man I felt alive!
And to think, one week earlier I had been completely ready to quit!