Butterflies Be-Gone by Tom Wiseman

As usual I met my instructor at the FBO for a dual training flight. This particular flight was going to be at night to get the last of my night landing requirements out of the way. I needed 6, but wanted to try to get more in for the experience.

I had flown at night several times before with my instructor, and one particular time we flew from Klamath Falls, OR back to Benton, CA over high terrain at 9500′. So flying at night wasn’t new to me, nor was I concerned about it on this occasion. In fact, once we took off I felt so relaxed I had to pinch myself (in my mind of course)to see if I was actually flying or I was sitting in front of my flight simulator. It felt odd to be so relaxed. I had never experienced a flight like this up to this time.

So anyway, we took off from O85 into clear sky, flew over to KRDD and did 4 stop and go’s there. ATIS reported winds as 310@08. We were using RWY 34 at KRDD so I was use to the slight crosswind and feeling very comfortable landing there. However, each of my landings were not what I would call great. One was flat, one time I ballooned, one time I kind of porposed and another I flared a bit early. On all 4 landings I choose to use 20 degrees of flaps rather than 30 or 40 that is in the 172 I fly.

After the 4th landing I requested a west departure. Tower approved. We climbed out to 3000′ and I headed west after about 3 min’s. After exiting RDD’s airspace I turned left and headed south for KRBL. RBL is about 25nm south from RDD. I wanted to get in as much as I could from this night flight, so I was completely comfortable with flying at night and landing.

My instructor was pleased that I wanted to fly more. We got down to RBL and I did the usual 45degree inbound for downwind, called traffic on 123.00, etc. We tuned to ASOS there, as RBL does not have an ATIS. ASOS reported winds 270@08. Hmmm, my instructor said that’s almost right across the runway. I looked at him to confirmed I understood. It may not seem like a big deal to those of you who have been flying for a while, but for those of us still learning, an 8kt crosswind, at night, is not something you can scoff at.

I felt up for the challenge though and still felt comfortable. Still unusual for me though because crosswinds always made me a little nervous because I didn’t feel I had completely grasped the idea of crosswind landings. I understood the concept, but in practical terms I didn’t feel I was where I wanted to be in my ability. We turned base and of course noticed I was drifting slightly right, so a bit of correction to the left got us back on course. Turned final, again with a slight correction to the left. Left wing down, right rudder, lined up… My instructor calls out; get the nose over more to the right, so I pressed harder on the right rudder pedal. “Good, now hold it there”, he said. Ok great, I’m lined up. Power down, pitching for 65kts, threshold in sight, power pulled out, looking down the runway, flare, nose starts to go right, I let it, touchdown.

We taxied off the runway and my instructor said good landing. I replied back with, that sucked. What am I doing wrong? He said on final your nose was too far left that’s why I said bring it right, which you did, but then just before touchdown you let it drift to the right. I asked him how he could tell my nose was too far to the left. What reference was he using, as I wasn’t able to tell for myself; it appeared to me I was lined up. He said, first the nose will always weathervane into the wind because of the wind hitting the tail and pushing the plane. AHHHHHH, the wheels started turning in my mind. I didn’t know this fact up to this time. Either that or I had forgotten it. Ok I thought, good information, now I’m starting to get it. He said he was using the rivets on the nose cone to see which way it was pointing in relation to the runway, and also the landing lights hitting the runway when we were close enough. AHHHH I thought again, ok, more good info.

Then I asked why the nose went right when I had plenty of right rudder in? I said I’ve always been taught that you need lots of right rudder on landings due to P-Factor and Torque. He said that’s correct, and they teach that because a student needs to learn about those facts early on, but now I’m at the stage to where I need to be prepared for either. He continued to say that the nose could go either way on landing; it just depends on all the variables. The light went on inside my head. I told him that I have been too ginger with the plane. That I was obviously allowing the plane to do what it wanted because I didn’t want to stress it out or do something stupid. But now I see that I need to control the plane more. He agreed, and said that most students have a death grip when they first start to learn to fly, and that’s why he teaches easy touches, but over time the student because more adept and figures out exactly what I just said.

Well, as you can see, the wheels in my head were going and going. This new information and understanding of it inspired me to do better. So after our taxi back we took off and did 3 more landings before heading home and a final landing back at O85. All in all 9 night landings. But what was more important to me was the new found understanding of weathervaning, crosswind landings, and proper use of the rudders during landings.

I was anxious to get back up again solo, so I made arrangements the next day for that Saturday. On Saturday I got to the airfield, did my pre-flight and took off. I flew back over to RDD and then down to RBL, stopping and shutting down at both places before coming back home. I got in a 1.4 that day, and I must say it was THE best flight so far. I noticed right off the bat, immediately after takeoff, you know the time you usually go, oh crap I’m up here by myself again, that I wasn’t nervous at all. The butterflies were gone and I enjoyed the entire flight that way.

I had been avoiding my cross-country solo because of how I felt when I was in the air by myself, but after that great dual night flight, and the excellent solo after that, I know now I’m ready for it.

I wanted to share this story with those of you who are experiencing the same butterflies I had when you’re flying at night or solo. And to let you know that most, if not all pilot’s, go through the same thing. But after a while, as your experience and ability comes up, so does your confidence. And that’s when you finally start to enjoy the beauty of being in the air. If I can do it, so can you. So keep pressing on, so you can obtain the goal of getting your pilot’s license like so many before us.

P.S. After that last solo, I made a phone call to my instructor thanking him and telling him I appreciated all of his training and motivation. You might want to do the same thing when you get to that point. CFI’s work hard to get you your dream.

Tom Wiseman