“You need to practice your landings,” said Lisa dangling her airplane’s keys in front of my nose, “Here. Go fly.”
Mind you, she wasn’t being snippy. She was being kind. And of course, she was right. For someone whose logbook nearly caught fire from the friction of logging so many flights a few years ago, my airtime has become worse that spartan. Oh, sure, I get up in the air about once a week on average—better than most GA Pilots—but that’s a mere shadow of better times for me.
And most of that’s not real flying, either.
Yeah, most of my airtime nowadays is more that of a glorified passenger, than pilot—often serving as safety for either Rio or Lisa while they hone their already considerable skills. Sure, at some point, either one of them will say, “Do you want to fly for a bit?” and I’ll take the controls and execute some half-hearted ground reference maneuver, or maybe a pair of back-to-back steep turns, cartwheeling through 120 degrees for a sip of g-force-induced adrenaline.
Don’t get me wrong, just being in a airplane, even one whose controls you don’t touch, still beats the heck out of sitting on the ground. Being airborne is always good for the soul. But Lisa was right: I was in danger of being rusty, and I hadn’t been alone in an airplane for a long, long time.
As I settled into Lisa’s pride and joy, I found it strange being in Warbler’s left seat. I’ve only flown him from that side a time or two. Usually I’m the legally required, but entirely unnecessary, safety pilot—half asleep, on the right hand side. And when I do “take the plane” for a while, again, it’s from the right. Stranger still was being in Warbie alone. Well, sort of alone. Lisa had strapped Beryl the Bear into the copilot seat. Beryl, named after the author-aviatrix Beryl Markham, is a well-traveled medium sized Teddy Bear that has accompanied many a member of the Rio Grande Del Norte Ninety-Nines on their flights over the years. Beryl may well have more flight time than I do, not bad for a bear too short to see over the instrument panel.
Lift off! Warbler’s spritelier with only me and the bear—who doesn’t even weigh half a pound—aboard. I’m up into the pattern. I choose Runway 26, the best spectator sport runway from our hangars, so that Lisa can watch my landing practice. Warbler is a heck of a good-looking airplane, but Lisa’s rarely had the pleasure of watching him fly from the ground.
She’s always in the cockpit.
Downwind. Midfield, pull the carb heat. Abeam the numbers, reduce the throttle to 1650 rpm. Trim for 80 mph. Roll base. Warbie and I drop from the heavens. Final. If I were in Tess, I’d be adding power. We look low. Beryl reminds me that Warbler glides shallower and longer than Tess. Still, as we cross the threshold I’m coming down out of the sky at a breath-taking 800 foot per minute. Right before the flare I goose the throttle to break the descent, ease back on the yoke, then settle feather-light onto the runway.
The tires don’t even chirp.
Sweet! Still, one landing is hardly practice. I push the carb heat in, throttle up, and lift off to go around and do it again.
And again. And again. And again. And again. And again.
Normal Landing. Maximum angle climb out. Short field landing. Low-level air race takeoff. Refreshing my skills. Relishing the feel of the plane in my hands, I realize that the key to good takeoffs and landings is more than just practice. It’s the summoning the sight, sound, and feel of all your previous takeoffs and landings. For me, thousands over the decades.
Well, that, and having someone lend you the keys to their airplane.