LOG ENTRY - 21-SEP-2011                                        Matt Borland
  Flight: 21 - 21-SEP-2011 - 1.2 hr - Touch-and-goes
  Depart: KCOS ~1130  Arrive: KCOS ~1142

A lot has happened since my last entry...I am slowly improving but still feel
like a complete newbie.  Right now my instructor is getting me ready to do my
first solo flight.  This has caused both excitement as well as apprehension.
It's less that I'm worried about doing things alone, as it is that I am just
not completely confident in my landing ability.  I'm sure I can get the plane
to the runway safely, but I'm not in great command of the plane post-flare.

It's been a long road; my instructor wanted me to solo earlier this month, but 
I still haven't had a day where I feel good enough to do it.  One day was lost
to weather; another day was slotted for my 'stage check' with the chief pilot.
For the stage check, I went up with probably the most experienced pilot in
the club (he flew F-105s in Vietnam and had earned more than 2000 jet hours
by 1966).  To some degree this took some pressure off because there was no way
I could impress him.  My goal was to show that I could basically handle the 
plane and do so safely.  On my ride, we performed some basic air work (steep
turns, power-on and power-off stalls) and then did some landings.  For each of
my landings, my base and final legs were both quite fast and short; upon
reflection it was because the wind was pushing me from behind and to the side.
You generally don't want a tailwind on landing, but this tailwind was sort
of an abberation and wasn't reading where the windsock was placed.  I was 
sort of relieved when the chief pilot took us in for the final landing and
attempted a short-field landing, only to find himself off-target due to the
stray tailwind.

The following week I was prepared to fly solo, but the first day there was a
little bit of rain and wind and my instructor just wanted to see me make some
landings in preparation for soloing the next day.  The next day I started early
in the morning, with beautiful weather, but I didn't show great landings and
sadly didn't really improve on them.  My approaches were generally OK, but 
after the flare I wasn't really controlling the plane the way I should.  I
really was looking forward to soloing but made the decision that I wasn't happy
enough with the landings to try them on my own.  I was really frustrated that
my landings were poor and spent the next couple days wading through a lot of
doubt and self-reproach.

Luckily I seem to have emerged from that mental state and reminded myself of a 
few things.  First, that the way you work through difficulty is through resolve;
you resolve that you have both the will and ability to see the task through.
Second, I have a way of automatically raising the bar on myself and so any
frustration is self-imposed.  Being frustrated will only slow the process. 
Finally, I have to accept that at least for a while I may just have to tolerate
not being all that great: I may be behind the curve at times, but if I'm 
resolved to see this training through, then it doesn't actually matter how long
it takes (cue 'Run, Fat Boy, Run').

Yesterday the weather wasn't great, sort of a bad crosswind on all runways for
practicing a lot of landings, so we did air work 'under the hood.'  The hood is
a visor of sorts that you strap to your head that prevents you from seeing out
the window.  This is used to force you to use only the instruments, and 
accumulates hours toward your simulated instrument time which is a requirement
for a VFR pilot's license.  VFR stands for Visual Flight Regulations and is
compared with IFR, or Instrument Flight Regulations.  VFR pilots still need to 
know how to fly with instruments primarily so that if you find yourself in
a cloud, you can perform basic maneuvers that will help navigate you back to
a visual environment (out of the clouds).  

The hood is surprisingly effective at removing you visually from the outside 
world.  For about 45 minutes I was flying the plane without much assistance
from the instructor and without any outside visual references.  When your 
ability to see outside is hampered, you perform different air work than you 
would typically perform.  To turn you perform 'standard turns' which are 
shallow (10-15 degree bank) turns that are accomplished by following the turn
indicator instrument.  This ensures a steady rate of turn, meaning that if
done correctly you will complete a 360 degree turn in two minutes.  So, if you 
find youself in a cloud, to go back you would engage a standard turn and turn
for exactly one minute, placing you at 180 degrees to the direction you had just
been in.

We practiced unusual attitude recovery as well.  For this my instructor would
take the controls, have me close my eyes completely, put the plane into
an unusual attitude then have me open my eyes and recover.  On recovery, you
look at two things.  First, you read the airspeed indicator (or alternately 
hear the change in pitch of the engine) and if airspeed is increasing you cut
the throttle; conversely if you are losing airspeed you put in full throttle.
Second, you look at the attitude indicator and make the necessary corrections
to put yourself into a proper attitude.

I am sure that there are many people that do not like this; however I liked it
quite a lot actually.  For one thing, I got to feel the plane operating under
unusual attitudes, which of course you don't want to most of the time, but it
gave me the feeling of 'yes, I can correct this.'  It was actually a little 
exhilarating for me to have my eyes closed and hear the engine either fight the
climb or absorb some of the descent, and feel the plane roll, and know that I 
would have to recover.  It didn't take very long to correct the plane's 
attitude any of the times we tried it; if anything I took longer than I would
need to as I didn't want to yank too hard on the yoke at high speed.

As part of these exercises we also did some testing of my inner ear.  I would
shut my eyes and try to flight straight and level, or try to perform some sort
of level turn.  After a certain point, your sense of balance is thrown out and
you can't sustain a true level configuration.  However, there are several things
you can do to keep yourself from losing control.  You can listen to the engine
and pretty easily determine if there is acceleration or deceleration.  This
can keep your pitch fairly level.  However, your roll is harder to determine if
you are in coordinated flight.  You will feel no particular shift or slide even
if you are at a pretty decent bank.  My instructor would at some point tell me
to recover, at which I open my eyes and perform the recovery procedures.  In
each case I didn't have too bad of a pitch and mostly just had a bit of a roll.

I took the plane most of the way back to the airport under the hood, and when
I was told to take it off, the world shone back very beautifully around me.  I
had been missing out on a very beautiful, if windy, day.

For my flight today, the winds were a little high: 180 (from the south) at 11 
knots gusting up to 19 knots.  In addition the winds and gusts shifted quite a 
lot.  My instructor wanted to know if I still wanted to do landing practice and
I said that I did.  I wanted to get more experience with the dynamic aspects
that were present.

Today I was resolved to handle every bit as much of the radio as possible, and
part of that was to make sure that if I didn't hear or understand a radio call
to me, to just say "say again."  This is a simple and necessary act, but it was
actually a little difficult for me early on to admit I didn't fully hear
something.  I got to use it today; as I was taking off the tower had some static
as they called our traffic pattern (left or right, couldn't tell).  A simple
"niner niner november say again" fixed that.  I notice that a lot of the old
timers if they don't hear you will put a hand to an ear and say "say again?"

Today I felt much more comfortable flying than I had for a while.  I had 
expressly decided to not drink coffee before flying and I believe it actually
paid off.  I think that unless I have a large breakfast the coffee makes me a
little too jittery.  Lesson learned.

I was doing OK with most of my landing work, except that I apparently was 
having some control issues after my flare.  I talked about it with my 
instructor afterwards and think that it may be a combination of things.  First,
I may be focusing too close to maintaining center line...not looking far enough
ahead.  As a result I may be making too large of corrections trying to maintain
center line.  Also, I am probably not quite reacting properly and quickly
enough to variable wind.  For example, if I am right of centerline but crabbed
a little left into the wind, to maintain straight centerline I need to use
left aileron to roll back to the left, but use right rudder to yaw to parallel
the center line.  I think I was instead trying to wander back to the center
by yawing more to the left.  As a result I confused my instructor because I 
was putting in left rudder when he wanted right rudder.  So I'm hoping that I
can keep those insights in mind and react better next time.

I was glad to have done these landings with the variable wind; it gave me the
opportunity to better recognize that at all times flying is a dynamic situation
and I believe in many ways it forced me to think and react better (despite the
issues I listed above).  So, looking forward to flying again soon!