Wrasslin' with Mike Echo 02 Mar 2014
vfrpilot flying aviation

All over my body I feel warm, my eyes dart left, to the fully extended wind sock, back to my panel, and then straight ahead. A couple hundred feet before the displaced threshold I line up on the centerline and slowly advance the power. The airplane starts accelerating down the runway, I sit mesmerized for a moment at the sight before remembering who’s at the controls.

Eyes jumping around the panel, finally identifying the oil pressure gauge, followed by the airspeed indicator.

“In the green…”

“Airspeed’s alive…”

“Passing 60 knots…”

“And rotation!”

I’m officially flying.

There’s a mental state that’s to be avoided when piloting an aircraft, called “get-home-itis.” It’s the overwhelming desire to get to your destination, which can cloud your judgement and lead to taking unnecessary risks.

I woke up Saturday to cloudy skies, and a bad case of “gotta-fly-osis.” Having not flown in a couple weeks, I was anxious to get into the air, but the forecast was not promising.

By the time I’m packing my flight bag to head to Hayward, the ceiling has risen to 5000ft, but the winds are a steady 12 knots, gusting to 18.

“Okay, I’ll go down there, if it gets windier, I’ll grab a burger and come home” I tell myself while driving.

To the west in San Francisco, I can see the grey columns of rain falling on the south side of the city. Passing through Oakland, I see similar columns of rain over Piedmont. There’s a chance that the weather makes my go/no-go decision for me.

Arriving at the office to pick up the keys to the plane, a concept which still amazes me, I run into my flight instructor. Expressing my concern about the wind, he waves it off and says “nah, it’ll be good practice for you, you should go up.”

Skies clear below a 5000ft ceiling, who could argue?

With some reassurance, I stomach the remainder of my anxiety, let my excitement take over, and head down to the ramp for some pattern work.

Pulling up in front of N296ME (Mike-Echo), I turn off the car, look down at my cup of water and suddenly realize that I have to pee. “It will have to wait” I say aloud while grabbing my flight bag.

As I’m wrapping up my pre-flight inspection, some light rain starts to fall, but tapers off by the time I’m ready to start the engine.

Mike-Echo, a fuel-injected delight, jumps alive without objection. I spend some time fidgeting with the throttle to get it right at 1000rpm like I want it to be, before continuing on with my engine start checklist.

“Hayward Ground, Skyhawk Two-niner-six Mike-echo, at the green ramp with Kilo, request taxi to One-zero left.”

The weather is so non-standard today, the wind has been coming to complete opposite direction of normal. As a result, the airport is operating the opposite ends of the runways, instead of 28R, I’m taking off on the other end, 10L.

“Six Mike-echo, taxi to One-zero left via Alpha”

Creeping onto the alpha taxiway, I notice the wind sock which I hadn’t paid attention to yet, and appropriately deflect my ailerons and elevators to prevent the wind from pushing me around on the ground.

A Cirrus SR-22 arrived at the run-up area just before I did, and did a stellar job of taking up too much space, giving me the opportunity to practice a good sharp u-turn behind him. Grumbling, I start my run-up procedures.

The Cirrus still hasn’t moved by the time I’m done, so I scoot out in front of him and make my call to tower.

“Hayward Tower, Skyhawk 296ME holding short of 10L at Foxtrot, for left closed traffic.”

With clearance, I start onto the runway to start my runway roll. Power advancing, my eyes start darting around the panel.

“In the green…”

“Airspeed’s alive…”

“Passing 60 knots…”

“And rotation!”

Coming off the runway is smooth until 300ft when the first gust pushes me from the right. I shallow out my climb, exchanging some vertical for horizontal speed.

At 400ft I hear an alarm in my headset “Altitude!” my heart seizes and my eyes scan the panel. Everything looks fine, somebody left an altitude alarm programmed into the autopilot for 400ft, bastards. One of the downsides of flying a rented plane.

Making my upwind to crosswind turn, the wind continues to fight me. The little ball in the turn coordinator keeps getting tossed around. Time out of the cockpit shows in my delayed responses, allowing a second or two to pass before I stomp on the rudder and get the plane coordinated again.

The combination of the wind, Mike-Echo’s extra power, and Hayward’s low pattern made the ride a bit bumpy.

Wrestling with the plane, I fly a long downwind leg, and an interesting base leg. Lining up on final, I’m dealing with a textbook cross-wind landing. Dipping my right wing down ever so slightly, while pressing my left foot down on the rudder pedal, I maintain a rough approximation of centerline as I descend towards the runway. Floating past the numbers on 10L, the stall warning horn starts complaining followed by a gentle chirping of the mains touching down.

“Hayward Tower, 296ME will be taxiing back”

“Roger 6ME, turn base a bit earlier, you were in Class Charlie airspace”

“Roger, 296ME”

Oakland's airspace is the magenta line at the top left of Hayward

I inadvertantly busted Oakland’s airspace wrestling with Mike-Echo. Considering I had just landed on 10L at Hayward for the first time, I suppose only one screw-up isn’t that bad.

Taxiing back, I ask Tower if they’d call my base to help give me an idea of where this pattern actually is.

I continued to fly 6 more circuits, 5 landings with one go-around, including a taxi-back each time. I decided against touch-and-go’s to make sure that I was taking the time to regroup and evaluate each pattern and landing before getting back into the air.

Despite the practice, the approach from the opposite end of the field didn’t start to feel comfortable. With each landing, I saved more altitude and airspeed than necessary, leading to me floating over the numbers.

By circuit 4 however, my step-on-the-ball rudder-response-time had improved dramatically, along with my power management in the pattern.

I had gone from wrasslin’ with Mike-Echo to working in concert against the ever-changing wind speed and direction.

Shutting down the airplane after I was done, I left the plane with my usual big smile. Exceptionally happy to have flown , but this time around, with a little extra spring in my step, having safely gained some good experience in the process.

Given the rarity of westerly winds at Hayward, I’m not sure I’ll be able to practice “backwards patterns” any time soon, but I do think I might head out to Tracy in the near future to play around with more cross-wind landings, there’s always more to learn.