Lesson 35
3 March
1.3 hours

This was a checkride with Becky, the head of the flight school.  I woke up feeling dreadful--literally--because I felt unready and rushed.  I wanted to practice landings because I'd been doing them wrong for some time and had only just managed to get in a few correctly in the previous lesson, and wasn't at all confident.  Felt awful.  The sky was mostly clear, but windy.  No salvation there, unless it was too windy to fly.

First Becky grilled me for about 20 minutes in her office about regulations, flight conditions, the airspace around the airport, how to find the field when you're lost--and on and on.  Then she followed me around the airplane as I did the preflight check, and I had to tell her everything I was doing, and why.  Finally we climbed in and she put me through a flight test.  we took off on 33, with an 18 knot wind from 300--in other words, with about 8 knots of crosswind--and headed west to the practice area.  Once there, she had me do some steep turns (yes, I remembered to do clearing turns before every maneuver), then slow flight, and some power-on stalls.  I'd expected to have to do more, but she said we could head back to the field and do some landings, and on the way she pointed out what I hadn't done quite right, but also said I'd done everything within the tolerances required for the final FAA checkride.  So far, so good.

But things started to go a little less well when I had trouble spotting the airport.  She pointed it out several times, but I was looking too far away and began to feel stupider and stupider until finally I realized that we were only about four miles from it.  But I checked with AWOS for the wind and altimeter, and managed to enter the pattern correctly and do the radio work right.  Naturally, runway 33 was still the active one--even though I've never felt comfortable landing on it.  I got around on base and onto final, correcting fairly well for the crosswind.  Kept the left wing down and plenty of right rudder in to keep aligned with the runway.  Rounded out at the right height, let it settle, flared, and we were down smoothly.  Or so I thought until Becky started telling me that I'd landed on the right wheel first.  Said I'd done fine until the last moment, but messed up the final second or two, and that was Not Good.  Well, that certainly kept me from feeling too confident.  We taxied back around to the downwind end of 33 and took off again.  I climbed to 900 feet, turned onto crosswind, then leveled off at 1200 feet and turned downwind.  Just as I was going through the pre-landing checklist she pulled the throttle and there I was with a simulated engine-out.  Jesus!  I pitched for 60 knots and went through the try-to-restart-the-engine checklist, while turning base and then final.  The maneuver sucked, as I thought there wasn't enough time to fly a normal pattern, and just did one big round 180.  On final I had trouble getting lined up, and the wind kept bumping me all around.  I'll make it short:  It was the worst landing I've EVER done.  Bounced several times and yawed off to the right before the poor plane finally gave up and squatted down on the concrete.  It was so bad I couldn't talk.  Fortunately, neither could she--for the first few seconds.  Then she told me in exquisite detail what I hadn't done right and what I had done wrong.  Actually, she was quite civil and pleasant about reaming me out--but I felt reamed, all the same.  In essence, she said I should practice landings, everything else wasn't bad, I should practice landings.

All right, so what did I learn--or, more accurately, what am I learning--from this lesson?

The most obvious thing, I guess, is that I'm afflicted by bad test anxiety.  I've known that for decades, but have had it made VERY clear today.

Mistake #1.  I shouldn't have gone through with the checkride when I felt--rightly--unprepared for the landing part of it.  (The rest went just fine.)  I knew I wasn't ready--had done only one engine-out simulation on the runway before, and that was with no wind at all--and even then it didn't go very well.

Mistake #2.  I made a big mistake on the second landing.  I think a gust hit us, causing a roll to the right, and as soon as I began to correct for it, the gust passed and we rolled back too far to the left and lost lift, which is what caused the first bounce.  But that's not the mistake--just a normal crosswind circumstance.  My mistake was that I didn't add power and either go around or fly down the runway a little way to get stabilized and then land a second time.  That was really stupid.  Why didn't I add power?  Becky even reminded me on final to keep my hand on the throttle in case I might need to go around.  So my hand was on the throttle, but I didn't open it up.  Why not?  I think I had given myself up to the test situation.  She had pulled the throttle and said "You just lost your engine."  And I took her word for it--let myself get into the frame of mind that the engine was out.  I simulated trying to restart it and simulated being unable to get it going. So in my mind it was really out.  I think that's partly why I didn't think to throttle up when we bounced.  Fortunately, Cessna made those plane good and rugged, or else that one would have been good and bent.  It was just my ego that got wiped out.  I'll probably feel better in a few days.
Okay, now what am I going to do about this?  Try not to let myself get pushed into doing things I know in my heart--and stomach--I'm not ready to do.  And try to stay in charge in my own mind, even when someone's putting me in the position of temporary inadequacy.

Next Monday, Adam will be two days a married man.  (Not that that's relevant here.)  I'm going to insist on practicing as I see fit, whether it's what he has in mind, or not. I need to practice landings--especially crosswind and power-off--but without having to be distracted by emergency procedures and other stuff that gets in the way of concentrating on the specifics of landing the airplane.  Then I'll know what I can do and what I can't do yet.

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