Floating over imaginary sod
Wiping the crud from my sleepy 6am eyes, I shut off my alarm and grab my tablet off the nightstand. As is becoming increasingly common, my days are starting with weather before I even leave the bed. I open up the forecast for Hayward: clear skies, winds at 0 knots.
“Shit, I have to wake up now”
My desire to fly, and desire to sleep are at odds with one another during these critical early morning minutes. Grumpy for no good reason, I throw my junk into the car to drive down to Hayward.
On the menu for today in 738VU is a lesson full of nothing but short-field take-offs/landings, and soft-field take-offs/landings. Staying in the pattern makes for a very productive lesson thanks to Haywards unique low pattern altitudes.
Pre-flight complete, and into the cockpit we go. Turning the appropriate knobs, flipping some switches and the engine start checklist is complete, I enter Hayward’s frequencies into the Garmin and make my initial full call up from parking to Hayward Tower.
I realize my mistake before Tower even responds.
“Hayward Tower, Seven Three Eight VIctor Uniform contact ground point four”
Damnit. My instructor smirks, his silence has paid dividends, he saw the mistake coming from a mile away.
Every time I get a little too yeah-i’m-a-pilot-neener-neener confident, some minor mistake brings me back down to earth where I’m still just an error-prone student pilot.
“Hayward Ground, Cessna Seven Three Eight Victor Uniform at the green ramp with information xray, request taxi to Two Eight Right”
Clearance from ground received we putter off towards the run-up area for 28R.
My first soft-field take-off I act too timidly with the rudder pedals, resulting in us gaining our speed left of centerline, before climbing out.
Coming around in the circuit, as was the case the day before, my circuit is sloppy as is my approach. A go-around ensued as a result, I seem to have a habit of needing at least one crappy circuit in order to relax enough to tune everything in for the next time around.
Coming around again, the circuit is crisper, the approach isn’t terrible but a little right cross-wind (seriously, very little) nudges me left. My hyperfocus on the “soft-field” part of “soft-field landing” kicks in and we end up finding the runway left of centerline with a moderate jostling.
I don’t know if they ever name runways after people, but if they do, I hope they name the left half of 28R after me for all the time I’ve spent there. That’d be a real nice gesture.
Over the next few circuits I start to hone in on a proper soft-field landing. My instructor is satisfied so we switch over to practicing short-field landings.
Soft-field is all about putting the plane down as gently as possible, short-field is all about precision landing, and stopping the plane. Meaning my habit of floating in ground effect for 500ft down the runway had to be eliminated, my power needed to be reigned in on final approach, and I had to get over my worry of hitting the grass leading up to 28R.
The approach to 28R feels all wrong visually, you cross a big 30ft tree, a big street, the parking lot behind California Airways, what feels like an eternity’s worth of run-up area, some grass and then finally the runway starts (you can see for yourself in this video).
I always feel too low, so I carry power on my final, which causes prolonged float during the landing flare.
We worked through that however, and towards the end of the lesson I was crossing the big tree with my power to idle, allowing me to put the plane down pretty much right on the numbers. It took 4 or 5 tries to get speed, power, glide slope and my head all working in concert correctly, but before the lesson was up, I think I was getting it.
Putting in a good, productive lesson feels great, and helps ensure that “flying” always wins over “sleeping in” on mornings when I have lessons scheduled.
With the basics of soft-field and short-field work there, I can now come back over the weekend and start gaining more experience with the techniques by flying the pattern solo for a bit.