After almost ten days of foggy mornings and scheduling mishaps, I was finally able to get back up into the air this morning, in 738VU. Unfortunately the Ugly Duckling has been having its annual maintenance done for the past week, leaving the California Airways fleet one plane short, and forcing yours truly into a less welcoming bird.

Before heading to bed last night, my instructor set up our plan of attack should we be fogged out again this morning, but as luck would have it the skies were perfect. A very welcome change of pace compared to the many of the recent mornings in the bay area.

N738VU The differences between 738VU and my “usual” plane were noticable starting from the preflight. Instead of fetching the special aviation plastic step-stool from the baggage compartment to check the fuel, I could stand on the steps, one on the fuselage and one on the wing strut. Entering the plane, the more modern electronics required a slightly different workflow as well. Unlike the older avionics in the Ugly Duckling, things worked more automatically in 738VU, no gyros precessing which require tedious calibration, clearly displayed numbers and helpful buttons for updating current weather information quickly.

Ease of use, bah. I don’t care for it.

A couple of times between taxi and the soft-field take-off I performed, I managed to either delay or entirely flub my callsign, 737GM and 738VU are close enough to allow my muscle memory to screw things up.

As I took off a big difference between the Ugly Duckling and this plane was made apparent. Ugly Duckling loves to fly, it jumps off the runway and climbs like a champ, thanks to the STOL kit installed by the owner. 738VU in comparison, seems reluctant to fly. Ugly Duckling’s engine is loud and obnoxious and lets itself be known when operating at max power, this other plane buzzed along as it timidly climbed out of Hayward.

After escaping under Oakland’s Class C veil, the right seat yanks my power out and I start bumbling through the emergency landing procedures. We’re coming down towards a golf course in a valley between two hills and I start to hesitate. Instructor terminates the exercise, I climb back up and we continue on towards the practice area.

I’m rusty.

In the practice area, we work on steep turns, power-on stall recovery and emergency descents. Nothing terribly noteworthy, the aviation equivalent of crunches and push-ups, plain and simple work.

After completing the emergency descent, I call up Livermore (KLVK) and head towards the pattern for some soft-field landing practice. Having never performed the maneuver, my instructor demonstrates, handing back the controls after a touch-and-go.

Entering the crosswind and downwind legs of the pattern are a bit sloppy, turns out the rest of the circuit was sloppy, approach included, and I ended up going around.

Definitely rusty.

The second time around, the pattern was much cleaner, the approach was decent but as I got close to the runway I entered hyper-focus mode on the soft-field aspects of the exercise, and not enough on the landing part of it.

Due to time we taxied back to the start of 25L, performed a short-field take-off and headed back to Hayward.

Entering the approach for 28R at Hayward, I felt confident I could put the bird down cleanly on my home turf. Base leg was a bit low, approach felt good but as we descended through the last 50ft it started to feel like my feet were slipping out from under me towards the left. Go-around has become more reflexive, so I crammed the power and floated upwards. Instructor insisted I could salvage the landing, something he later pointed out was okay since he was in the plane with me. I dropped the power out, resumed my descent and performed a plain-jane-landing without issue on the remaining 1300ft of 28R.

Lesson over, back to parking.

I’m glad I identified how rusty I can become early. I don’t think I’ll rust as quickly with more experience, but it’s important to recognize that unused skills degrade over time. Flying a plane is not like riding a bike, or like driving a car, it’s a different beast entirely. The best way to fly safe, as far as I can tell, is to fly often, keeping skills and judgement sharp.

While i’m not thrilled with my flight, I can point at areas which require more focus and practice in the near future, which means it was at least forward progress.