As frustrated as I was with my performance in my last lesson I was anxious to get back up in the air again today and prove to myself that I was capable of gentle landings.

For a myriad of reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve not been sleeping well lately. Enough so that I was debating with myself whether I was sufficiently alert to fly for the first half of the drive down to Hayward. Like most trips down to Hayward, I started to perk up as I navigated through the traffic. By the time I arrived at California Airways, the grogginess had passed and I was fully operational, and ready to fly in circles for an hour or two.

Pre-flight complete, my instructor and I settle into the plane and I go through my engine start checklist. 1, 2, 3 shots of primer, open the throttle a bit, “clear prop!” I yell out the window with a crack in my voice, and turn the key.

A few revolutions of the prop, some coughing and zilch. Not uncommon, 737GM can be a tempermental plane to start on some mornings. Pump the throttle a couple times, give it some more primer, try again. Putt-putt-putt-putt-purrrrrrrtttt. Nothing.

The Ugly Duckling doesn’t want to wake up.

We wait for the engine to cool down a little bit, then prime it a few more good times and give it another go, and it finally catches.

You might not believe it, but power is a pretty instrumental part of powered flight, so I was quite glad that the Duckling decided to join in today’s adventure.

While I flew the first circuit, I asked my instructor to perform the landing so I could see what I was supposed to see. One of my learnings from last lesson was that I need to get my signt picture calibrated for what a landing is supposed to look like.

While holding onto the signt picture in my short-term memory, we go around and it’s time for me to perform some landings.

I don’t particularly remember how good or bad some of those landings were. They were of sufficient quality to where when I asked as we rolled down 28L after the third one “touch-and-go?” My instructor responded, “not unless you want to keep flying with me in the plane.”

Oh right. Time for some more solo flying.

I dump my highly certified cargo on the south ramp and taxi back to the start of 28L. First circuit around goes well, managing the power a bit better in the pattern, landing was decent.

I taxi off and head back towards the start of 28L for another go. When I come around for my final approach the second time, things are a bit more wobbly, as I near the runway, I balloon up more than I’m comfortable with and go-around. My instructor later tells me that this wasn’t caused by wind, but that I likely pulled back on the yoke too abruptly in my flare. Oops.

I could have probably added a little more power, resumed landing attitude and landed properly but I felt a lot higher than I probably was.

By the time the third circuit came around, another pilot was on a long final approach for 28L. Tower extended my downwind quite a ways, forcing me to think on my feet about when to make the right power/flaps and speed adjustments.

As I came in on my final, my speed wasn’t quite right and I had some small fits of ballooning (feeling for the runway) which I was comfortable enough addressing with minor power adjustments to put the plane on runway. Phew.

Fourth time in the pattern, tower gives me grief about my altitude being off pattern altitude by about 140ft. I certainly wasn’t 140ft off pattern altitude, but I was a little high. We’ve experienced this “quirk” in the Ugly Duckling before whether Hayward Tower will read us at 100-200ft higher than what we’re indicating. I read back what I’m indicating and continue in the circuit, more mindful of my altitude just in case. As I turn to final, centerline is correct, airspeed is correct, glideslope is correct; making minor drift adjustments as I near the runway, and I start to get my eyes looking at towards the horizon and back. My main wheels make the ever so slight chirp as I gently touch down, that was a greaser.

Totally greased it

Sidenote: I’m only using the term “greaser” here, in place of saying “good landing” because after my first solo, along with a cut-up shirt, I received a certificate authorizing the use of aviation lingo. It cost me a few thousand dollars to get that certificate, so I’m going to put it to good use.

I take-off again, fly my circuit and come in for another landing. This one I’m having a bit more difficulty maintaining centerline, but I manage to set the plane safely on the runway. Not as gently as my previous landing, but not a rough landing either. Taxiing back by the ramp where I left my instructor, and I see him flagging me down and I think “shit, that wasn’t a good landing was it.”

Turns out the landing was fine, he just wanted a ride back to our parking spot, lesson’s over.

Each landing I’ve been consistently left of centerline, I’m fairly certain my visual reference is wrong for lining up. When I taxi, I use a line of rivets on the cowl to track centerline, but when I’ve been flying, I’ve been using what, from the left seat, looks like the center of the nose.

I also need to work on my flare’s consistency. In our debrief my instructor mentioned that I seem to have the most trouble with the last 5 feet of altitude between the wheels and the runway. I think this comes down to how correct my airspeed, and my sight-picture are.

Both issues I think should be straight-forward to address next time around.

I’ve now logged just over 2 hours of “pilot in command” time. Over 2 hours of yours truly flying alone in circles, with my instructor standing on the ground pretending he’s not playing Candy Crush on his iPad.

My next lesson however, will be a bit different of a solo in that my instructor won’t even be getting in the plane with me to warm up. He’ll probably even get to sleep in, while I perform a full pre-flight on my own, start the plane on my own, taxi, takeoff, fly circuits and land, on my own.

That means I won’t get my dose of Top Gun references from my instructor, so I’ll have to make them myself.

At this stage of the game, I want to fly like Iceman. I want cold consistency with every take-off, approach and landing, even more so when paying attention but me.