Thursday, November 18, 2004

Flying in Circles

I got to fly solo again today - in an old rental Cessna172 that's about as old as I am. It had been a while since I flew by myself so I spent the morning staying in the pattern working on my landings. (It's not like I had anyplace to go.) My first few landings were near perfect, but on my third go-around I turned base early and found myself a bit too high and too close on final approach. No big deal, it was certainly a salvageable situation. I simply let out the throttle early and glided on in. Nevertheless I found myself diving at the runway in an attempt to touchdown at the optimum point and as result I was still gaining too much speed. As soon as I realized this I eased back on the yoke and put in some extra flaps to slow myself to a reasonable rate. As I settled in over the runway I really felt the effects of the extra flaps. They had helped bleed off that extra airspeed, so much so that as I floated in to land I simply hung there cushioned by the ground effect (compressed air between the ground and wing that produces extra lift) going slower and slower but suspended a few feet off the ground. I had to quickly punch in the throttle for a moment in order to avoid stalling and falling hard onto the runway. During this final adjustment, I touched down so softly I wasn't quite sure I had even landed until a few moments after the fact when I realized the brakes worked. Despite a series of minor mistakes and overcorrections I somehow managed to perform a beauty of a landing.
What's strange is of all the landings I did today (seven total) this is the landing I'm most proud of. It wasn't exactly my best landing. Of course, it was never so bad as to warrant an abortive go-around either (something I am always willing to do if I feel uncomfortable with an approach). I guess what makes it so memorable is the fact that I was able to stay on top of things even when they got a bit complicated - constantly reacting to the situation and compensating for its changes. Despite the obvious evidence to the contrary, I felt more in touch with the situation, more in control, more connected to the aircraft during that landing than I normally do.
Why is that?


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