Archive for July, 2006

Could you be my long lost girl?

11 July 2006 at 7:09 pm
by Berck

It’s true that I don’t really know you.

Yet again I’ve finished only to start afresh. I’d planned to chronicle the progress of my last three students in some detail to give you a feel for what it’s like doing what I do. Unfortunately, doing what I do, I’m awfully tired by the end of the day and prefer to act like a vegetable when I’m not working. Which means that I don’t write as much as I sometimes envision. The previous three aforementioned students have successfully completed AFS. The glider IP was actually from Belarus. He turned out to be, as expected, a quick student and got through the program in two weeks. The quiet guy turns out to have been a reasonably good student who studied hard and got through with only minor difficulty. And then there’s Elizabeth, my first female student. She studied hard and showed up to her flights very well prepared. Flying, however, wasn’t something that came naturally to her. But, as Chuck Yeager supposedly said, “There’s no such thing as a natural-born pilot.”

The only real trouble came on her solo flight. To get to her solo flight she’d already passed a check ride. On the day of her solo, I flew with her first to make sure everything was good… standard practice. Her first landing was a bit high, and she couldn’t get it on the ground. I was a bit nervous, but she unhesitatingly decided to go around and try it again. This is something that makes an instructor pilot very happy: a young pilot’s resolve to get an approach right, and if it’s not, to go around and try it again. So often pilots feel pressured to get an aircraft on the ground at all costs, without thinking things through and making good decisions. In general when a landing looks like it’s going to be bad, the safest and most prudent thing to do is add full power, pitch the nose to the horizon, and try it again next time. So when my student, just before her solo, decides to go around all on her own, I’m thrilled. In fact, I thought, “Great! Good judgement! She’s gonna live!” I was ready to solo her right then and there– even though what she’d just done was, of course, screwed up. The next approach was a bit fast and flat, but it was safe. I had her do another and again, still a bit fast, and perhaps a little flat, but it seemed safe enough to let her do it herself.

As we taxied back to the ramp, I signed the back of her student pilot’s certificate and endorsed her logbook. A student is of course nervous about his first solo, but his instructor (at least, if I’m his instructor) is a wreck. As I climb out of the plane and collect my headset (unable to escape the thought that should my student crash and burn at least I’ll have my pricey David Clarks), I start babbling and repeating things they should know, but which have given past student solos problems. “If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask… It’s better to look dumb than be dead. Only prime the engine for 4 seconds. Don’t do any touch and goes, only full stop landings. Don’t taxi near a fuel truck. Be sure you’re monitoring Riddle Ops on the ramp. Taxi out and turn right just like you normally do, then call ground at the end of the ramp. Remember if anything looks bad, GO AROUND. If you bounce, GO AROUND. And lastly, have some fun.” With that, I close the canopy, latch my side, and stand by the wing while she starts the engine.

After a successful engine start, I head up to the AFS tower to supervise. Because we’re pressed for time on the summer schedule and because I had her do more landings than I usually do, she was late and would only have time for one landing on her own. She taxied out and went through her engine runup checklist, but because she couldn’t get the attention of the plane next to her, she queued up in line with the 7 planes waiting to for takeoff, rather than winding up ahead of them like I’d hoped. Since we didn’t want her in the middle of a huge group of planes, the guy in our tower picked up the phone and called the control tower to have her taxi onto then off the runway to get behind everyone else in line. She was totally confused by the instructions, but asked questions and eventually got positioned where everyone wanted her. Unfortunately, I think it probably rattled her a little.

Her takeoff was uneventful. “She’s coming down one way or another now,” I thought as the aircraft lifted off and started climbing. I followed her around the pattern, and she made good radio calls. And there she was, on final, cleared to land. I walked out onto the roof to watch without glass in the way. She flew it right down to the runway and things were looking good, but she didn’t flare. She just let the nose wheel smack the runway which started a porpoise-like bounce. The second bounce was worse than the first and I hoped she’d go around. Sure enough, I heard the engine come to life and off she went. I walked back into the tower to hear her calmly tell tower, “Talon two seven is on the go.” “Good!” I think, the next one will be okay.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t. It was exactly the same as the previous one. And the third time around was exactly the same. Three go around, and now folks were starting to get worried. The control tower called our tower, Major Smith (the 557th Ops Sup) was notified and walked up the stairs along with the Chief Pilot and everyone else. “You’ve gotta talk to her,” someone tells me, and they telephone tower to have her contact me. “Skywalker, Talon 27?” comes my student over the radio. I pick up the mic and realize that I’ve got to keep her calm, and somehow talk her down. At this point, I suddenly remember that she told me I make her nervous. But what do I do? She sounded like she was about to start crying on her last go around, she’s bound to feel like she’s stuck in the air, and I MAKE HER NERVOUS?!? “Someone else should talk to her,” I think, but everyone is staring at me with a “come on already!” look on their faces. I take a few breaths to make sure I sound calm, and key the mic. “Talon 27, this is your IP. You’re doing a great job out there. I think the only problem you’ve got is you’re coming in a bit too fast and you’re too anxious to get it on the ground. Get your airspeed under control and try to hold it off a little longer.” I wait awhile for a response, something to indicate that she’s heard me. Instead, on tower frequency, I hear, “Talon 27 base, full stop.” Tower matter-of-factly clears her to land. I’m not sure if she heard me or not, and I’m not sure if it matters.

She landed. It was a little flat, but she didn’t bounce, and got it on the ground safely. I’ve never been so relieved to see a plane come to a stop.

During squadron roll call last Friday, Major Smith was sure to give me a hard time about it. Stories at roll call primarily exist so that you can relay a story to the whole bar about something dumb you saw someone else do. When told correctly the name is withheld to the end, and the guilty party is forced to take a shot. As a former F-15 pilot, Major Smith is well equipped with the gift of exaggeration. As he relayed it, I talked her down the whole way… “Okay, add power, nose down just a little, pull the power back, keep going, a little lower, flare, flare!!” And that afterwards she requested to go around the pattern again. Also very much not true, but it made a great story. The rules for stories during Roll Call is, I think, a ratio of at least 10% truth. The rest is fair game. “That would be Berck, and here’s to his excellent instructional abilities!” I toasted the 557th, took my vodka shot, and sat down with a rather red face.

I’ve flown a couple of times so far with each of my new students. They’re average; so far no obvious projects and no stellar performers. The summer group tends to be full of athletes, and athletes don’t make the brightest students.

Berck didn’t like any of the new stamps

10 July 2006 at 8:56 pm
by Jonah

So he bought a bunch of old stamps (planes and cars). He didn’t like the Navajo Jewelry either, so he bought a bunch of American Kestrels to go with them.

Actual Fact: John Paul II’s favorite ice cream flavor was marron glacé (candied chestnut).