“Minute Man traffic, light-sport one three four X-ray entering downwind for runway three, Minute Man.”
My flying pal, part-time rock-band lead singer John Lampson, says, “I’m likin’ it. Speed, descent rate—everything looks great.”
John wears many hats: He’s also a busy CFI at Premier Flight Center (www.premierflightct.com) at Hartford-Brainard Airport (HFD) in Hartford, Conn., and he even has a full-time job. He trained me for my sport pilot license a year ago. [Read Jim’s “Ticket To Ride" series.]
Today, I feel good, though I’m a bit rusty: It has been several weeks since my last flight. That break came courtesy of New England fall weather and my moth-eaten wallet, i.e., minimal flight funds.
Our ride is a snappy CTSW. I love the SW. The sporty predecessor to the CTLS I got my ticket in is snappy, solid and lots of fun to fly.
So here we are on short final, a bit high—I turned base too soon. Hate it when I do that. Having John riding shotgun is a real confidence booster after my layoff. He simply loves to fly, and happily gives flight instruction even when he’s not being paid to do it. Quite a guy.
“Looks like you’ll need to slip it in,” he suggests. Too true. Minute Man’s single 2,770-foot, aged, somewhat mangy runway looks even shorter from this high angle. I push rudder and counter bank for a fairly aggressive slip to go with the 30 degrees of flaps. John advises, “Better do it steeper or we won’t make it.”
I’m not so sure, but if my guardian copilot wasn’t aboard, I might already have gone around by now anyway, so I steepen the slip. Out of the corner of my eye, I see his hands hovering over the stick. Don’t sweat it, amigo, we’re good.
“Watch your speed,” he cautions. Dang, this slippery little SW picked up five knots when I wasn’t looking. Now we’re halfway down the runway, still six feet off the deck.
It’s not alarming. There’s still 1,300 feet of runway. Airspeed is about 50 knots. We can do it.
I uncrank the slip and ease the stick back for the flare. John says something about right rudder, but it doesn’t register in my consciousness.
More back stick, speed falling off and... “Right rudder,” says John. “Watch your drift!” I feel his hands on the stick. I push the right pedal, tepidly: I don’t see any drift. “More right rudder,” he says, “more rudder—it’s going left!” Then, just before touchdown, he says, “Go around, go around.”
Surprised, I hesitate, sure I can land safely, then push the throttle lever forward too briskly, but the trusty Rotax roars to life strongly and smoothly, and up we jump.
“Man, I thought we had it made,” I complain, feeling a mite stepped on as we turn crosswind. “I think you’re babying me today, rock-star pilot.”
“Well, maybe I am,” he says, looking sheepish. “You could have made it, but it would have put a side load on the landing gear.”
“Naw. Really?” I was sure I had lined up properly.
Then I reflect on John’s 5,000 hours and multiple ratings. And he’s got more time in CTs than I’ll probably ever have. Maybe I’ve got a case of what an old art director pal used to describe as: “Better than I never was.”
John, patient and generous guy that he is, offers to do a demo so I can see what he’s talking about. Around the box we go.
On short final, he says, “Okay, here’s how we were set up before.”
“Except for the too-high part,” I chuckle.
Rounding out the descent, he flares, calling out the moment just before stall when the nose begins to swing left. Just then, we abruptly contact the runway.
“Honestly, I didn’t really see the nose drift much,” I say.
“Really? Well, that wasn’t the best landing to show you either. Want to do another one?”
“Sure.” We taxi back and launch into the clear blue sky. “You know,” I add, “maybe you’re not letting me make enough mistakes today. I feel like I’m making corrections by rote a bit too much, rather than figuring it out for myself.”
John takes that in with customary good cheer. “Tell you what,” he says, “this time you do the whole landing and I won’t say a thing.” I laugh. If anybody ever took on the Impossible Dream, it’s loquacious John Lampson attempting to clam up for a few minutes.
“No way I’ll hold you to that, pal,” I joke. “I just think I’ll do better if I see more of my mistakes before you step in.”
Back around the patch we go. My approach is better this time. On short final, John almost keeps his promise, only occasionally calling out speeds, sink rate and flap settings.
We glide into ground effect, then it’s flare time and back on the stick—easy, easy now, feeling good, speed’s right, settling nicely...and as the nose rises, there it goes to the left!
“That’s it, see what it’s doing?” he asks.
“Yeah!” I say, feeding in right rudder, suddenly remembering this characteristic of the CT.
We touch down, straight and true, with no side load on the gear.
“That’s it. Perfect!” he exclaims.
Rolling up to the café, we’re babbling back and forth about that CT nose drift I wasn’t sharp enough to notice earlier.
“When I flew more frequently, I guess I got used to correcting for it automatically. I had forgotten all about it!”
“There you go,” John explains with a nod. “That’s why I had you go around—to see for yourself.”
There are these opportunities in flight—if our egos will let us have them—when we have “aha!” moments.
Like the comic strip character Pogo once famously said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
My enemy here was false confidence: my certainty—even in the face of incontrovertible evidence from both John and the airplane—that I was doing fine when I wasn’t.
“Better than I never was.”
Now I’m reminding myself to befriend the enemy within. To remind him that I’m always learning, that I need to fly more often, that I’ll never know all there is to know about even the simplest flying skills.
And whether I’m flying alone or lucky enough to have an ace copilot like John along for the ride, I will listen, learn and challenge myself to always stay focused and alert.
Then one day, maybe—just maybe—I’ll be as good as he is.