This post is dedicated to the seagull that decided that hanging out on an active runway was a good idea. Rest in peace seagull.
So I finally got back in the cockpit after weeks of Army exercises and bad weather. Sunday morning I woke up to realize it wasn’t raining and completely cloudy for a change, so my lesson would still be good to go. I got to the airport right as another student was leaving and scheduling his next flight. He stated that he’d only be able to fly on the weekdays from now on due to his schedule. I wish I was that guy! It’s been incredibly hard finding time to do flight lessons with this new job I’ve got. Anyway, I showed up to the flight lesson with a bit of anxiety, since I haven’t flown since April. I kept hoping that flying a plane was just like riding a bike. Honestly, it’s not like I even know enough about flying to forget anything. I only had five lessons under my belt.
Eric and I got through the pre-flight checks and got ready to depart “the ramp” which is really just the space outside the airport FBO where the plane was parked. Eric asked if I wanted to try doing the radio calls, and I decided that I better do them. I’ve decided that I should never pass up an opportunity to learn something, unless I truly feel unsafe doing it. Eric told me what to say on the radio. “It’s a push-to-talk button, not push-to-think, remember that” he instructed. I practiced saying the radio call and Eric confirmed it was good.
“Watertown Traffic, this is Cessna November Two Zero Three Four Eight, taxiing to Runway Two Five, Watertown Traffic, over.”
“Don’t say ‘over'” Eric instructed. My Army training had betrayed me. I’m still not sure how pilots know when the tower is done talking or vice versa, but I’ll have to get used to that.
I taxied us to the hold-short line and made another radio call. God I sound cool, I thought. After going through my final checks, I held short of the numbers on the runway and prepared for my first takeoff in two months. I took my feet off the breaks and slid them down to where they rested at the bottom of the rudder controls. We started drifting forward, slowly at first, and then I pushed the throttle in. I sped along the runway as the plane picked up speed. Usually, I would watch the airspeed indicator myself to figure out when to start pulling back on the yoke to get us airborne, but this time, I was so intent on keeping the plane strait with my feet that I didn’t notice the airspeed get up to 60 knots (mph? honestly I don’t know).
“Alright, you’re at 60, pull back.” Eric said over the headset.
I had pulled back on the yoke just enough that the wheels were coming off the ground when I saw the seagull. It had been hanging out on the runway in front of us, but just before we reached it, it had taken flight. If it had just stayed on the ground it actually would have been fine. It didn’t though, and the bird flew through the top-right quadrant of the propeller as the plane sliced through the air. The bird pieces slammed into the windshield with a sickening thud. I was still pulling back on the yoke, but Eric told me to throttle down and land, but ended up taking over anyway.
We settled back down, Eric cursing but also telling me that it wasn’t my fault. Eric brought the plane back down the runway to find the bird. I’m still not sure, but I think we headed back to try to ascertain if the bird had truly hit the propeller. It had, after all, happened very quickly. Sure enough, we found the bird, sliced cleanly in half. We headed back to the FBO, Eric saying that we were done for the day since they would have to do some checks on the aircraft to make sure it was good to fly. Disappointed that my return to flying had been such a catastrophe, I let my head rest against the seat as we taxied back and parked. However, I didn’t have anything planned that day so Eric announced we could just wait for another student who was doing a solo flight to come back in and then take that plane out. While we waited, we inspected the plane. There was a bloody smear across the windshield. The right wing and landing struts were covered in blood spots. A single feather clung to the landing strut. It was quite the mess.
I hung out in the FBO until the other student landed. Eric and I headed back up, this time without incident. I tried two landings, but the plane was getting badly tossed around by gusts. At one point, while coming in for a landing, I ended up in a nose down attitude that was a bit steeper than desired while coming in for a landing. Eric said, “Well now we’re screaming towards the ground, so pull up,” which was a pretty memorable statement. Someone later informed me that “screaming” or “nosediving” were standard flight instructor hyperbolic terms for descending at a rate greater than 750 feet per minute. After my second landing, Eric asked if I wanted to go again or head in. I thought about it and nearly said we should head in, since I was getting stressed out trying to land with the significant gusts. However, like I wrote earlier, I believe that I shouldn’t waste an opportunity to learn, so I’d go for one more. The landing didn’t necessarily go bad, but the gusts definitely had an effect. Eric talked to me about how to recover from ballooning during a landing while he taxied us back. After that we, we went over the pre-solo written test that I had filled out. There were quite a few I didn’t know how to answer, so we spent about an hour going over the answers and talking about stuff I didn’t understand. We spent quite a bit of time going over the various types of airspace, which apparently is what causes student pilots to have the most trouble during their check rides.
All in all, it was a good return to flying, even though it involved a bird strike and some serious gusts. Now I’m off on two weeks of vacation, so I will once again have a break in flying, which brings us to:
Additional random thoughts featuring:
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu: My wife has long been interested in mastering (or just learning) a martial art of some sort. At a fair recently, a local martial arts establishment had set up a tent and my wife and I talked to the guy there for a little while. This got us thinking about martial arts again, which I too have wanted to pick up. So last Monday, we ended up going to a BJJ fundamentals class. My wife and I paired up against each other and spent the whole class hurting each other in new and exciting ways. I had studied Judo when I was on an exchange program at the Chilean Military Academy, but I hadn’t quite understand everything being said to me, so my learning was limited. That experience, plus my experience with the Modern Army Combatives Program, allowed me to at least hold my own when we got into some light sparring later on. It was a fun experience and I think my wife and I are going to sign up for a full-year (the only contract they offer, which is obviously not ideal, but that’s the situation.)
Creative Writing: I’ve got a story to write, based on the previous story I posted here, titled The Drums. Problem is, I don’t have any idea where I want the story to go. So I plan on doing some serious brainstorming and some light story planning and getting some serious writing done while I’m on vacation. I must relax but also must accomplish! I should have plenty of time to write though, as on the second part of our vacation, my wife will be attending a conference during the day, so I’ll have that time to myself.
And that’s all for now folks, thanks for reading!