Resuming the Journey: Takeoffs and landings

A pilot’s return to flight

April 19, 2012

A couple of weeks rolled by and it was time for my second lesson since returning to flying after a nine-year break. I was excited and not nearly as nervous, because lesson one had gone well.

I moved through the preflight quicker than before—and did get out the step stool this time for the climb up to check the fuel. Much easier.

I’d mentioned to my flight instructor, Tom Zecha, that I wanted to practice short- and soft-field landings, since I thought I’d need those skills for flying in Alaska. He agreed and said we’d get there, but maybe not this lesson. He wisely suggested we start with normal takeoffs and landings and see how it went. We had strong gusty winds—13 knots gusting to 18 at 210, so we would use runway 23.

I remembered my two landings being pretty good on our previous flight, so I expected this lesson would be a piece of cake. Boy, was I wrong.

Maybe it was the wind and the rocking and rolling. Maybe it was me. Probably it was a combination of both, but I could not put the airplane down smoothly to save my life.

Seven times I went through the pattern procedures: Takeoff and climb to pattern altitude. Level off, reduce power, trim for level flight. Follow local noise abatement procedures, and hold the turn to crosswind till over the quarry. Turn downwind. Complete the landing checklist. Abeam the numbers, pull power to 1,500 rpm, hold the nose up to bleed the airspeed to 80 knots. Add 10 degrees of flaps. When 45 degrees, turn base, power back to 1,200 rpm, flaps to 20 degrees, look for 70 knots and continue the gentle descent. So far, so good.

Then I turned final. I threw down 30 degrees of flaps and reduced power further. My world fell apart. I didn’t like the picture out the window. I was too low. I pulled back on the yoke. “NO!” Tom hollered and pushed the yoke back. “Power, Kathy. Add power, not pitch.”

Right. I knew that.

A bit shaken as the stall warning horn beeped briefly, I kept the nose down and added power. I got it sort of stabilized. On short final we flew through a downdraft. I added more power. Over the runway, I was fast and pulled the throttle back too quickly; I was awarded a hard bounce for my poor decision. Adding a bit of power back in on the bounce minimized the second touchdown and as soon as we settled, Tom said grimly, “Again.”

Good grief.

Seven times. Some landings were better than others, but none were good. This was not rust. This was full-scale corrosion. I wondered if I could do this.

Kathy Dondzila, is the manager of technical communications for AOPA’s Pilot Information Center. She has 300 hours total time and an instrument rating. After being an inactive pilot for nine years, she is working to get back in the left seat.

Kathy Dondzila

Kathy Dondzila | Manager, Technical Communications, Pilot Information Center

Technical Communications Manager, Kathy Dondzila, joined AOPA in 1990 and is an instrument-rated private pilot.