We were low and fast, the dam at Santa Rosa Lake falling behind our twin tails as I rolled out waaaaaay off course. The day was grim and grey, matching my mood. I don’t often suffer depression when flying, but my spirits were lower than my altitude.
I took me nearly 20 miles to figure out what went wrong. It was the wind, of course. Something I probably learned the first day in flight school thirty-five years ago, and then forgot since. Our timed turns were a disaster because I forgot to account for the effect of wind on a turning airplane.
All of our practice, and all of our hours of playing with math and protractors was a waste of time—the one thing an air racer can’t afford to waste. My six-second turn only worked in calm air. In a left-hand turn, a crosswind from the left pushes the plane away from the turn, requiring more time. A crosswind from the right pushes the plane into the turn, reducing the time needed.
My directional gyro now a paperweight, my GPS not accurate enough, my compass funky in turns, and my plan to use time as my secret weapon now in shambles—I had nowhere left to turn to make the perfect turn. And I was out of time to come up with a new plan. The first race is a week away.
As the sun crept up over a distant cloudbank crouched on the horizon, it dawned on me: Pilots pre-date instruments. At the dawn of flight, the mind of the aviator held the key to success. I would just have to wing it.
Thank goodness I have two wings. I’m going to need them to pull this off.