Back Into the Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 12

Blue skies met us the next morning.  We headed out to Loyd’s and Meadows Field in the rental car at 6:30 a.m. and got to the airport, parking behind the FBO, before the receptionist was at her desk.    I left the keys for the car next to the cash register on her counter and then asked one of the linemen for a lift out to our airplane.  He went to fetch a cart and when he returned, we loaded up ourselves and our bags on it and had him drive us to our airplane.  As we rode through the cool morning air, I asked him to make sure the receptionist knew the keys on her desk were for our rental.  He said he would.

After unlocking our airplane, we loaded our bags aboard and configured the cockpit for flight.  With charts, kneeboards, and headsets in place, I performed my walkaround, checking the fuel amount and cleanliness, as well as control continuity and general aircraft condition to make sure we were ready to go.  When I was convinced we were, I pulled the chocks out from behind the nosewheel and pulled the little airplane by hand out of its parking spot, spinning it into position by pushing down on its tail and pivoting it on the main wheels, and then locking the parking brake once the nosewheel was back on the ground.

I let Connie get in first so I could help her get situated; and once she was in place, then I plopped my rear in my seat, spin my legs into place while pulling the stick back so my knee went over it, and put my feet on the steel rod rudder pedals.  I strapped in, laced my kneeboard into place, put my headset over my head, and then got out my checklist. We were ready to go.

The little airplane started right up, and I taxied her down until we were just past the FBO and stopped to get the ATIS.  Our Garmin 496 had the taxi chart for the airport up, but I found it easier to look over a printed copy of the airport layer, 8.5 x 11 inches in size.   Clear of any other airplanes, I ran through most of the takeoff checklist including the engine checks before I called Ground and asked for taxi clearance.  Ground cleared us to taxi via taxiway Charlie to runway three zero right, right in front of us.  With only maybe eight thousand feet of runway left from that point and a ground roll for takeoff of maybe three hundred feet, I deemed the runway margins acceptable, even for me.

Popping the flaps down to fifteen degrees and making sure the transponder was squawking our altitude, I called for takeoff clearance as we rolled up on the Charlie hold-short line.  The Tower cleared us on three zero right and then for a left turn out.  I rogered the call as I goosed the throttle and turned us onto the runway, pushing the throttle full open as I did.  Our Rotax engine answered with more of a buzz than a roar but we shot down the runway nevertheless and leaped into the air at my first pull back on the stick.  We did the elevator-climb trick till we hit three hundred feet above the ground, and then, I shoved the nose down a little to force the airplane to accelerate, retracting the flaps as it did.  There was a slight settle until they were at zero degrees, and then I pulled the nose up a little to intercept seventy-eight knots and continue the climb.  We were on our way!

“Tower, Five-Four-Seven-Alpha Whiskey for a left turn out,” I radioed.

“Five-Four-Seven-Alpha-Whiskey, left turn out approved.  Would you like Flight Following?”


I rolled the airplane into a climbing left turn, and we watched the checkered pattern of the city spin below us.  Rolling out on our on-course southeasterly heading pointed us toward a low spot in the distant mountains; we were flying toward the Gorman VOR and Teflon Pass, a point offering lower terrain to cross to leap over the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  From there, we would turn eastward, marking off more longitude than we had been and making better time directly toward home.

Tower called traffic behind us; a Beechcraft had launched out of Meadows after we had and was now somewhat paralleling us as it climbed out.  I spotted the airplane at our eight o’clock on a diverging trajectory; and he said he had us in sight so I stopped worrying too much about him.

Tower switched us off to Bakersfield Approach and we continued outbound.  As we climbed out of the valley, though, I noticed a layer of clouds beginning to thicken up below us.  I couldn’t see how far to the east it ran and I hadn’t seen it in the forecast so I started wondering if I had missed something.  Our next checkpoint was General Fox Field at Lancaster and I wasn’t sure if we were high enough to pick up the airfield’s ATIS, but I dialed it in and we got it and they were reporting clear.  So, I relaxed and pressed ahead, and we leveled off at 7500 feet just short of the VOR which I could see as we passed over it.  We turned east, heading toward the southern California desert.

Slowly, the mountains fell away and the Mojave desert opened up underneath us.  The black asphalt of Fox’s runway was very easy to see as we pressed toward it.  Though we were going to overfly the airport in a effort to get home, I had intended to land there originally to correct an original sin.  On my student cross-country some thirty years earlier, flying in a Cessna 152 with flaky radios, I had misunderstood tower’s directions and entered the pattern the wrong way.  It didn’t take me or the tower long to figure it out and I spit out and turned around, landed, and then had a conversation with the tower.  They were nice about it and there had been no harm done.  As if somehow doing it correctly would undo the mistake made long ago, I had planned to land there and do it right.  But my true objective now was to get home  hopefully with some margin on the clock, so doing it anyway fell out of my list of priorities.

The skies were clear and visibilities good, and we could look to the north and see the paved runways, including the temporary one, of Edwards Air Force Base.  A twelve thousand foot runway had been constructed for both Air Force and NASA usage while the major fifteen thousand foot long runway was being refurbished.  In my day job at Johnson Space Center, I had been involved in the reviews and approvals of shuttle use of the shorter runway, so I felt I had a personal connection with it.  But those were not my only connections with Edwards.  I had flown in the Shuttle Training Aircraft as an observer while astronauts shot approaches to the Edwards dirt runways; I had participated some twenty years earlier in test flights conducted with a NASA F-14A as a RIO in the backseat of a Navy F-14A acting as a target as they flew against us and the NASA F-14 evaluated changes to the aircraft’s aileron-rudder interconnect system; and even earlier in my life, as an enlisted man stationed at NAS China Lake and a student pilot, I had landed a Cessna 150 on the big, main runway to take a tour with my instructor of the NASA facility.

I waved and said “so long” as we passed by.

Flying just north of Palmdale, we slowly made our way across the desert to the airport at Victorville.  Once there, we nudged our course gently southward to graze the foot of the mountains surrounding Big Bear and steer clear of the large Restricted Areas to the immediate east.   We crossed the brown desert and over the top of Williams with its single runway, nosing toward Desert Center, while imagining what it was like south of us where rich people inhabited Palm Springs, a place I had never been.  We flew over Desert Center ahead of schedule; we had some nice tailwinds and the GPS displayed 138 knots ground speed, almost thirty above what I had planned.  Not bad for a little 100HP plastic airplane!

The planned end of this leg of the trip was the airport at Blythe, California, and that was our next stop.

Back Into The Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 11

As soon as we got up the next morning, I checked the weather, with special focus on the winds in the normal California desert. From some climatology studies I had done for this trip, I knew the desert winds would normally push up toward the airplane’s recommended operating limits by 1 p.m.  Today, the winds were already up and forecasted to gust to upward of 40 knots by 9 a.m., the time we would be overflying the area.  The regular NOAA forecasts for the area seemed to indicate that the winds would die down to something more normal by the next day, and ADDS was showing we would still have some very nice tailwinds at altitude.  Though our little airplane appeared to be in great shape, I had little time in the thing and our upcoming legs home were over some pretty inhospitable country. Our first planned landing point was Blythe, California, and while the winds there were forecast to be within limits, they were at the upper end of the “okay” scale.  I decided that the better part of valor was to sit this one out.  I told Connie I thought it best to delay a day.  She agreed that though we could make it, it made better sense to delay a day and get better conditions.  We didn’t “have” to be back until Monday.  Even with this one-day delay, we still had three more days to get back to Houston.

After stopping by the hotel desk and getting our room extended for a day, we hopped in the hotel’s shuttle van and got a ride out to Loyd’s out at the airport.  As I talked to the receptionist at the desk and paid for our gas as well as got our sheltered cover extended for a day.  Connie found a kneeboard she wanted which I immediately bought, adding to our trip’s expense sheet.   I then asked if they might be able to help us get a rental car, and they called Enterprise who said they did have one they’d bring.  An hour later, we had signed paperwork and were happily about, using our iPhones as travel directors to help us find a McDonald’s; Connie wanted a Diet Coke.

We did find a McDonald’s and the Walmart where we stopped so Connie could get a few things she wanted.  We rolled through McDonald’s a second time to grab lunch and then went back to the hotel.  Being the great partiers we were, we took naps even though was ready “to go do something”.  I suddenly found myself feeling very tired; the whole airplane buying and training evolution had been very stressful, and I was coming downhill off it for the first time.  While there was still the trip home to consider, it still was more in my control than the first part of this effort had been; so, it felt less threatening.

For supper, we drove over to a Red Lobster and ate seafood.  I then took us back to the hotel where I reworked our flight planning.  Our original plan had been to fly from Columbia to Fox Field at Lancaster, CA and go east from there; our diversion to Bakersfield meant a landing at Lancaster was no longer necessary to maintain the two to two-and-a- half hour legs we liked to fly.  The new plan had us flying to Blythe, CA for a gas stop and then onward t Casa Grande, Arizona, just south of Phoenix.  Once there, we would either stop for the night or continue on one more leg to Las Cruces, New Mexico where I knew some good Mexican food restaurants awaited.  The surface winds so problematic today were not forecasted to be a problem tomorrow.  I planned on climbing us up to 9500 feet to ensure the little airplane would fly there; the next leg of the trip east from Casa Grande counted on us being able to go that high to cross a couple of mountain ranges east of Phoenix.  Otherwise, we’d have to fly further south to stay near I-10 as it crossed slightly lower lands around Tucson and on eastward.

I told Connie the weather looked good for the trip tomorrow but that, if we continued on past Casa Grande, we’d have to watch out for possible scattered thunderstorms along our route, especially as we approached New Mexico.  There had been more than a splattering of them along our proposed route today, and I was hoping that wouldn’t be the case tomorrow as the system spawning them moved east.

It would turn out that the biggest threat to us wouldn’t be the weather at all.

Back Into The Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 10

Back at the FBO, I unloaded our bags with the help of one of the linesman.  Connie was sitting in the leather lounge and still trying to cool off.  I joined her for a swig of Diet Coke and a cookie or two and then made my way over to the receptionest at the desk to ask about a hotel recommendation.  As I was doing that, a masculine voice behind me asked how we were doing and if there was anything they could do.  The receptionist suggested the Doubletree hotel which they had an agreement with and had an airport shuttle we could use.

“That sounds good to me,” I said.

“Are you ready to go now?” the man asked.  “If so, I’ll be happy to run you by.”

“That would be great,” I replied.  “Our bags are right here.”

We picked up our bags and headed out the door.  He opened the trunk to a four-passenger car where we put the bags and then we piled into the car itself, the man and I in the front seat and Connie in the back.

“Where are you folks from?” he asked as we backed out.

“Houston,” I said.  “But only from Columbia today.  We just bought that little light sport and we’re taking it home.”

“We really appreciate your doing this,” Connie said.

“No bother at all,” he replied.  “I’m happy to help out any of our customers.”

I knew then, and I had suspected earlier, that we were riding in the car with the owner of the place.  His name was Steve Loyd, and he had inherited the business from his father.  They had been at Meadows Field for over forty years.  Steve’s dad, Byron, had founded the company and taught him to fly.  Theirs was a family owned business that had been at Meadows for most of its life; and they were trying to change with the times and survive, though they were not having an easy time of it.  The automaker bailouts and the associated bad publicity surrounding their use of corporate jets had made many companies gun-shy about using their airplanes, even when there was a solid business case for it.  That was impacting the Loyd’s business; their revenue came from the fuel and service sales that went with the galloping turbines.  We provided VERY small peas in their pot by comparison, making our courtesy ride that much more extraordinary.  We talked about how the media hype was creating unintended consequences for other people around the country as it often did, and especially so when it came to matters of aviation and space.

In a few moments, we were at the door to the Doubletree.  It was an older luxury hotel that had seen better days but still was in reasonable shape.  There were newer hotels just down the street, but somehow it would have seemed blasphemous to go anywhere else.  We got our bags and thanked Mr. Loyd for the drop-off and then went inside.

It took us a few minutes to get a room for the night, and they assigned us one on the first floor.  Connie is very picky when it comes to hotel rooms that suit her, and this one barely fit the bill, though I got the feeling that if we thought we were staying for more than one night we might have been hunting for something new.  At least the hotel had a decent wireless Internet, making evaluating weather for the next day’s flight possible.  When I did, I found that the ceilings and visibilities would be okay but the winds were another story.  The Pacific low that was pressing in to clobber Columbia as I predicted was expected to move east and cause significant surface winds (gusting to 40 knots) in the Palmdale and Lancaster, California area.  While we could overfly the area and take advantage of some nice westerly tailwinds at altitude, any kind of a problem that might force us to land would put us in a situation where landing safely would be problematic if not impossible.  CTSW operations with surface winds in excess of 25 knots were not recommended.  I told Connie we might be staying in Bakersfield an extra day to give the weather system a chance to move east.  I’d let her know for sure in the morning.

Meanwhile, it was late enough for us to be hungry.  A quick scan of restaurants close to the hotel showed there was a Hungry Hunter steak restaurant within walking distance of the hotel.  We decided to head out and get there before the real dinner crowd showed up.  Connie loves prime rib and that was supposed to be their specialty.  Even though we were “early”, we still sat at our table quite a while before we got waited on (maybe they could tell we were Texans) and they brought our dinners.  We both ordered some prime rib.  Frankly, mine seemed a little tough and Connie thought she had gotten better rime rib from Outback.  So, we left the restaurant somewhat satisfied but not wanting to return to it if we stayed in Bakersfield longer.

We spent the rest of the evening in the hotel watching television, checking e-mail, surfing the web, and checking weather.  As we went to bed, I was still leaning toward delaying us an extra day to let the wind in the desert die down, but we scheduled the hotel shuttle to take us to the airport at seven a.m. regardless.  If we decided to stay, we’d try to get a rental car and check on the CT and just make a day of it.  We turned out the lights and went to sleep with that plan on our minds.

Back Into The Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 9

We lifted off in our winged elevator, arcing up into the sky.  I let her climb until I hit three hundred feet, and then I edged the nose down a bit to pick up some more speed.  Still climbing out and over the hill left of our nose with its stick antenna hazard, at sixty-seven knots, I hit the flap switch and pulled back on the stick slightly to counter the airplane’s settle as the flaps moved up.  Glancing at the GPS display and my kneeboard’s navigational log, I edged the nose right to a one three six heading as I let the airplane continue to climb at 76 knots, best rate for zero degrees of flaps.  Over the radio, I called out: “November Five-Four-Seven-Alpha Whiskey, departing Columbia to the southeast”, not knowing if we’d ever be back there again especially in that airplane.

The view out the canopy was not what I expected.  To my left, the brown, small mountain peaks, the ones that only went up to four or five thousand feet, were closer to us than I had thought they needed to be.  I had planned to level us off at thirty-five hundred feet, but now was sure I wanted to go higher.  It would be a good test of the airplane’s climbing ability anyway.  I had my doubts about how’d she climb with the load the trip demanded she have, and I needed to have some feel for whether two ninety-five hundred foot altitude legs I’d need later on would be feasible.

“I’m taking us up to fifty-five,” I announced to Connie.

I kept the nose pointed up, the throttle forward, and my eyes on the engine’s oil temperature gauge.  We were still in the green, but the slow speeds we would keep with such a long climb would not only significantly reduce engine cooling but significantly increase our enroute time as well.  The airplane was holding a steady four to five hundred feet per minute and the GPS was showing our groundspeed as an anemic sixty-eight knots.

With brown, ragged, mountains to our left and open, green, mottled valley to our right, we wandered southeast over water-filled canyons that cut across our nose.  Our first checkpoint was the Mariposa-Yosemite airport, its grey, single runway hard to see against the brown earth and olive drab trees surrounding it.    We were level at fifty-five hundred feet and almost on top of it before I saw it and announced our position and altitude over the Unicom so folks would know we were there.

Our groundspeed jumped up to eighty-eight knots once we were level and power was set at 5200 RPM or seventy-five percent power and the normal cruise setting for our little bird.  I bumped the throttle up just a notch to round the groundspeed up to ninety-knots, knowing we’d burn more than my planned five gallons per hour now but also knowing we had plenty of gas on board for this one leg, more than enough to compensate.  Slowly, we angled ever so slightly away from the rippling mountain peaks soaring above us to the east, and the land flattened into the farming and wine country known throughout the world.    Our next navigational checkpoint was more esoteric than our first, i.e., it was the Friant VOR station, a little white cone of an electronic-filled station that would be sitting out on its own.  Its location just northeast of Fresno would keep us clear of that city’s Class C airspace, though our altitude alone was also keeping us free of any entanglements with it.  We plugged along, watching the landscape move slowly beneath us, comparing the landscapes on the sectionals to what we were seeing out the windows to make sure we knew where we were.  As we approached the VOR, I told Connie to be sure to be “eyes out” looking for other airplanes that could also be using the VOR as a navigational checkpoint and therefore would become a collision hazard.  But we saw no one, and changed our gaze as we passed the VOR to looking out at Fresno.   One of Connie’s cousins had actually been mayor of the place, but I couldn’t see her down there and doubted if she knew we were overhead.

Our next checkpoint was the airport at Porterville, so we slowly moved down the valley toward it. Its runways looked like a giant had dropped a boomerang on the ground.  I dialed up the AWOS and reset my altimeter as I also turned us toward more southward toward Meadows Field.  Pulling back the throttle slightly, I began a slow descent; and as we got within thirty miles of the place, I dialed up the airfield’s ATIS and then contacted Bakersfield Approach.  They didn’t answer my first call, so I pressed in a few more miles and tried them again.  That time, I got them.  They assigned me a squawk and acknowledged “radar contact”.

As we descended, the air grew more grey and turbulent.    I eventually leveled off at twenty-five hundred feet MSL as we bounced toward the airfield but didn’t pick it up visually until we were only five miles out.  Approach switched us off to Tower and I was told to expect a landing on three zero left and report a right downwind.  That put the long runway, 30R, between us and it, so we would be crossing the approach path for 30R to get where they wanted us to go.  Indeed, as I reported downwind, Tower asked me if I had a visual on a bizjet on final for the right.  I replied I did and was cleared to land behind it.  It landed well before we even made the turn to base; still, I kept us high on right base for the left runway to make sure I avoided the bizjet’s wake.  Pulling the throttle to idle, I dropped the flaps to fifteen and slowed and descended, targeting to land just past the displaced threshold but in time to get us turned off at the first taxiway.  We touched down a bit faster than I had planned but I cranked on the brakes (CHIRP!CHIRP!) as Tower asked us where we were taxiing to.  When I told them “Bakersfield Jet Center” they told me to exit on Taxiway Charlie and cross three-zero right and contact Ground.  I did so and Ground cleared me onto Taxiway A6, also straight ahead, and the FBO’s ramp.

We taxied past a single bizjet parked on the ramp, trying to locate ourselves far enough away from it so its jet exhaust wouldn’t blow our little airplane over.  A couple of linemen met us as we taxied into a spot, waiting while I performed our shutdown checklist and our little engine stopped with its characteristic “clunk”!  One of them slid a chock behind our nosewheel as Connie and I opened our gull-wing but under-wing doors and unstrapped.

“I’ve never seen one of these before,” one of the linesmen said.  “What is it?”

“It’s a light sport,” I answered.  “A Flight Design CTSW.”

“Are you going to need some gas?” the other asked.

“Yep,” I replied, “I’ll tell you how much in just a minute.  We’re also planning on staying overnight.”

“Okay.  I’ll go get a tug.”

Connie and I went inside the FBO to cool off and get something to drink. The woman at the desk was most hospitable, steering us toward bathrooms and sodas.  One of the linemen came in and asked if I could taxi the airplane back to where it was going to be parked since there didn’t look like there was a good place to hook up to the airplane.  I did so cheerily and stayed at the airplane while the fuel truck came up and I assisted them with refueling.  Then, I popped open the baggage compartment doors and pulled out our clothing bags and loaded up our flight gear into its bag, threw them on the back of a golf cart, and let them take me back to the FBO.  The CTSW was parked underneath a carport like roof and tied down, a spot where it would be shaded from storm or sun until we were ready to take off again.  I didn’t know then that it would not be the next morning.

Back Into the Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 8

Down the approach we slid toward runway 26.  Just before hitting it, I pulled back on the stick and flared, resulting in a firm but not hard touchdown on the black asphalt.  We had landed past the first turn-off and the next was almost at the end of the runway, so I let the airplane roll and even advanced the throttle a little to get us down and off, though for the moment, there didn’t seem to be anyone around but us.  I turned us off on the taxiway paralleling the cross runway 30/12 and then taxied down toward the ramp, pulling into a parking area a couple of spots down from a Flight Design CTLS sitting out by itself.  After I shut us down, Doug and I got out and took a look at it; its panel was nearly all “glass” where mine was full of steam gauges with a Garman 496 providing the nod toward today’s avionics packages.    Still, even with just that and its XM weather package, I had more information available to me in the air than I had had with my IFR Grumman.

Tracy seemed to be an eclectic place, full of airplanes you might not see at most airports.  There were a fair number of Experimentals, a couple of Grumman Tigers or Cheetahs, and a Beechcraft T-34 (not sure if it was an A or a B).  I had time to make only a short mental inventory of all of it before Doug was shooing us back into the CTSW again, ready to go back.  We piled in and I started the airplane back up, cranking the AWOS in on the radio, and setting Columbia into the GPS as our destination.  With the taxi checklist complete, I goosed the throttle starting us forward and taking the long trek out the taxiway to the departure end of 26.

I ran through the takeoff checklist and checked out the engine, set the trim, and rolled us out onto the runway as I called our departure over the radio.  Shoving the throttle full forward, I held the stick neutral until the airspeed indicator hit 40 knots and then I gently nudged the stick back.  The airplane leaped into the air, feeling like it was ascending via an elevator.  I rolled us left, making sure we didn’t truck any further east than necessary since there was a Restricted Area only a short distance away.  I climbed the airplane upward, keeping it ascending until we were at fifty-five hundred feet.  Then, I pushed the nose over, letting the airplane accelerate and pulling the throttle back until she settled into a cruise.

As I ensured we were on curse, Doug began demonstrating how the autopilot worked, showing me how it latched up to follow the GPS track, a set magnetic heading, or hold the current altitude.  We also ran through some of the functions of the GPS and talked about flying the little airplane cross-country.  We ran through more symbology on the sectional and, then, quit to make our approach into Columbia.  I flew us into a right downwind to 17, throttle back, dropped the flaps to 30, and slid the airplane down and around toward the runway, overcontroling a bit as we came down into the flare.  We touched down, and as I rolled out, unhappy I had not done better with the landing, Doug did the flight instructor thing and told me to go back and do it again.  I did, and this time did a more appropriate job of it.

We called it quits after that, going back to the shelter of Doug’s office to debrief and complete the sign-off’s I needed.

Afterwards, I took a look at the weather and met Connie and Anne and told them we needed to pack the airplane and get out of Columbia as soon we could.  A strong Pacific front was due to roll in the next day, and I was convinced we would trapped here for days if we didn’t get ahead of it….or, at least, south of it.  We began pulling our bags out of Anne’s car and shoving them through the triangular doors opening into the airplane’s baggage compartment.   We added some 100LL to our fuel supply in the wings and then said “goodbye”, and Connie and I climbed into the little airplane together for the first time.   She slid in first, and once I made sure she was in and settled, I slid in beside her and finished strapping in.  We checked that we had all the maps and info we needed for this first cross-country leg to Bakersfield where we would spend the night before pressing east in the morning. We started the little airplane up and, once I had configured the airplane for taxi, entered our projected course in the GPS.  My plan was to cut across the foot of the Sierra’s, holding to the east side of the San Joaquin valley until just northeast of Bakersfield, when we would cut down toward it.  This would keep me out of the Fresno Class C airspace and sandwiched between the MOA’s.  Normally, it would only be an hour and half flight with no winds, but we would have enough headwind today to push us out toward a two hour flight.

Once I had the GPS set up and my charts ready, we waved “goodbye” to Ann and taxied toward runway 17’s departure end.  Once there, I ran through the takeoff checklist to make sure we were set, asked Connie if she was ready to go; and when she said she was, I checked for traffic and pulled us out onto the runway.  I shoved the throttle forward and the little airplane roared off, jumping into the California sky for its trip to its new home.

Back Into the Wild Blue Yonder, Part 7

In the half-second it took to point the CT’s nose down the runway, I wondered if Doug was going to demonstrate the proper takeoff technique or if he was going to let me find it on my own.  He made no move to take the controls, so I began advancing the throttle smoothly…and a bit too slowly for Doug, though I had full throttle by the time he finished saying anything.  We whipped down the runway, hitting 45 knots by the time I even glanced at our airspeed, and the little plane leaped into the air before I was ready.  It propelled us upward like we were in an elevator rather than a little airplane; at three hundred feet or so, I pushed the nose over a bit to shallow out the climb and gain airspeed.  As I hit 67 knots, I retracted the fifteen degrees of flaps and adjusted the nose to climb out at 78 knots, the recommended best rate of climb speed for zero degrees flaps.

There was a respectable hill just slightly left of centerline maybe a mile or two away; Doug said something to me about keeping the climb going to make sure we stayed clear of it and the several radio towers adorning it we could see.  We’re leaving the pattern anyway, and Doug directed me to turn right to take us out for some airwork.  Even with two good size guys (me bigger than Doug) and a good load of gas, the CTSW continued to climb somewhat effortlessly, and we leveled off at 4500 feet MSL.  That’s about two thousand feet above the valley below and well below the mountain peaks that lined the horizon to our east.  Doug wanted me to do steep turns, so I glanced at our airspeed which was right at 100 kts and rolled the airplane into a turn to the left.  A sixty degree bank angle was almost disorienting in this airplane because I was surrounded by canopy and plexiglass, feeling almost like I’m perched in mid-air; I used the autopitot’s attitude indicator for my primary bank reference as we slid into the two G’s it took to keep the airplane at altitude at that angle of bank.  Once around, and I reversed, hitting my initial roll-in spot fairly closely but not feeling the “thunk!” that told me I had run into my own wake and done a superb job.  Today, “good enough” had to suffice.

From the steep turns, we went into a takeoff stall.  I set it up by placing the nose in climb attitude and then getting 78 knots at full power before doing anything else.

“You’re going to have to get the nose WAAYY UP!” Doug said, right as I was coming back on the stick.  He’s right.  I had the nose pointing up at what felt like sixty degrees and the airspeed was slowly bleeding down but I felt like I was already  laying on my back to get the airplane to break, which it did with no warning but good control.  I let the stick pressure loose and let the airplane accelerate, breaking the stall immediately, and then reset the nose to climb out at best rate again.  The thing I found most surprising was the amount of rudder the airplane takes; it’s what would amount to a “boot-full” in another airplane.  Indeed, all through the day, as we practiced slow flight and landing stalls, the airplane behaved pretty much like most general aviation aircraft with one exception, i.e., use of the rudder.  The CTSW is, as one of my friends reminds me even today, “a stick and rudder” airplane.  Large throttle changes shoot the little ball in my Slip and Skid indicator all over the place.  I had to be very fast on my feet to even come close to catching it.

Doug was happy enough with my airwork to command me to fly back to the field and get ready for landing practice.  The lake just to the left of me and the airport is to be avoided to keep from pestering people; I flew us into the right downwind entry runway 17 involved.  Turbulence buffeted us around as the wind from the west tried to push us into the runway.  Doug had me fly the downwind at 80 knots and just past the mid-field point hit the flaps to bring them down to the fifteen degree setting.  Their effect was instantaneous; the airplane decelerated like someone had slammed on the brakes and the airspeed indicator is showing only 67 knots.  I went through my landing checks and as we passed abeam the point where I wanted to land, I started trying to slow us down to the 54 knot approach speed Doug told me to use.  The airplane was so clean even with some flaps it resists slowing down and descending, so I brought the throttle all the way back to idle and continued to work the nose up to get the speed back where I wanted it.  Turning right onto the pattern’s base leg, I added too much rudder and the ball flew out to the left and Doug hissed at me to get everything coordinated and keep from a stall/spin accident if I got too slow.  Not much chance of that today.  I was still fighting to get the speed back and had us hitting 60 as we turned final and overreacted to the turbulence, working it too hard as we approached the ground.

“It’s a cork on the water,” Doug said.  “Cork on the water!”

We were starting to sink, so I goosed the throttle.  It was too much and the little airplane shot forward, accelerating another five knots in the time it took to even think about it.  As I rounded out, I could feel myself tense; somewhere in my subconscious was all that jive talk about how hard the CTSW was to land; and that tenseness was causing me t overreact.  The airplane bobbed up and down and I countered, getting it on the ground with a firm “crack” that let me know I hadn’t hurt anything but was heading toward the airplane’s limits.

Since a normal takeoff is done with flaps at fifteen degrees, I pushed the throttle to full and we leaped into the air a whole second later.

Around the pattern we went, time after time after time, working the winds and the turbulence and moving from landing at fifteen degrees flaps to landing with thirty.  I quickly learned that the best way for me to land the CTSW was to pull the throttle back and then not to touch it, especially on final or in-close; and to avoid what would be accidental throttle gooses by placing my right hand behind the throttle and holding onto the console.  I could still bump the throttle for the tiny throttle changes that might be necessary to adjust a final approach by bumping the throttle with my wrist, something that I could make unnecessary by managing my energy correctly via airspeed control.  My insurance required landings to a full stop, so each time, we rolled to the middle, turned off the runway near the terminal, and then taxied back to the takeoff end.  (I would later learn to do touch-and-go’s on my own after I returned to Texas.)  At the end of the day, after several hours in the airplane, we stopped with eight landings.

We didn’t talk about what was going to happen the next day.  There were few clouds in the sky and a little wind when I showed up at eight that morning, ready to fly.  As we piled into the airplane, Doug made sure I had a sectional for the area and he talked about flying a short cross-country flight to help prepare me for my trip home.    After starting the airplane, we plugged the identifier for Tracy (KTCY) into the GPS, and it drew a course line from Columbia eastward.  We competed our checklists and took off, and I turned us eastward to follow the GPS line as we climbed up to 4500 feet.

As I leveled us off, Doug picked up the sectional and started asking me questions about various symbols on the chart.  We talked about the Class D airspace at Stockton as it went down our right side and about the Class B airspace only a short distance away from our destination, i.e., what pilot requirements and equipment requirements and procedural requirements it would take to enter.  We discussed VFR weather requirements, cloud clearance criteria, what the crosshatched area just west of Tracy was (a Restricted Area) and where I could find information on the chart to check its status.

As we approached Tracy, I dialed in its AWOS frequency and listened to the weather.   There had been and was hardly a cloud in the bright blue sky: I was mainly interested in the winds since Tracy had crossing runways.  They were not blowing hard and were only a few knots out of the west but that meant a landing on runway 26.  I easily rolled into a left downwind approach, slowed us down, dropped the flaps to fifteen degrees, and dropped toward the black, asphalt runway below.