So back in the air after a nice weeks vacation in the Caribbean.  While I was away, two things rattled around in my brain as I sipped mixed drinks by the ocean.  One, my landings have been crap lately.  I have been transitioning too high, bleeding off speed or floating and dropping to the runway with a thud.  The other was my previous experience with advanced takeoff and landings, Soft Field and Short Field.

If you read my previous entry, Weirdly frustrating day… you would know that I scared myself during gusty soft field take offs.  That has haunted me ever since.  Well.. winds were light and variable so we tackled soft field and short field today.

First up, soft field.  My instructor showed me how it is done and again it felt weird as a passenger as she expertly maneuvered us around pattern. As expected, she did a wonderful job.

Now was my attempt.  To say I was nervous was an understatement.  I felt like this was my first take off ever.  I dropped 10 degrees of flaps and pulled the yoke to my stomach and started my slow taxi onto the runway.

I advanced the throttle and soon the front wheel was off the ground.  This time, I released some back pressure as needed to keep the front wheel from getting too high.  Now this was key, because in my first attempts, I had full back pressure and we lifted off quickly and I struggled to find the ground effect with a stiff crosswind pushing us off the runway.  Today, I felt under control.  I felt the plane lift from the ground and I held steady in the ground effect to accelerate.  As I reached my Vy speed of 65 kts, I retracted flaps and performed a normal climb.  Easy Peasy.  To reinforce my feeling of joy I hear from the right seat, “Text book soft field take off!”  Yay me!

The landing was not all that soft but the approach was good.  And it was a site better than I have been doing as of late.  Two more times around the pattern for soft field take offs and landings.  The second landing was nearly perfect, except as the wheels kissed the earth, for some unknown reason, I pulled back on the yoke, lifting us back up a couple of inches before settling down.  The third landing was pretty decent, could have been softer but I have the technique down now, just need to practice.  All of the landings were far far better than I have been doing in the last month, so that felt good.  Along with the confidence of soft field, I felt really good.

Next we moved on to short field take offs and landings. Once again, I let my instructor show me how it is done.  We didn’t get this far last time, so I didn’t have too many worries.. err expectations.  It seemed much more straight forward so when my turn came, I was feeling at ease.  I went through my lights, camera, action pre-takeoff checks and dropped 10 degrees of flaps.

As I taxi’d onto the runway, I was trying to hug the edge and when I turned… I was not at all lined up with the center line.  More like 10 feet to the right.  No big deal, but sloppy and I would definitely pay more attention to the turn next time.  Feet on the brakes, full power…. as the engine fully develops the power, I release the brakes.  Airspeed alive…. 50, rotate and climb at 55 kts.  Once I reach 50 feet above the runway, I lower the nose and accelerate to 65 kts… retract flaps. Not too bad.

As I turn final, I drop 30 degrees of flaps and slow to 55 kts.  The controls at this speed are pretty mushy but I have trained in slow flight at the edge of a stall and we weren’t nearly at stall speed in this configuration.  I was aiming to land on the numbers so I aimed for a dirt patch just before the runway.  As I got closer, I adjusted throttle and pitch to maintain between 55-60 kts.  As I crossed the threshold and the wheels touch down right on the numbers.  Whoo hooo!!

The second time around the pattern, I missed my target and I think I was longer than the 200ft margin that I have available to pass this test.  The third time around the runway, I missed the numbers, but set down right after and was well within the 200ft.  YAY!!!

Overall, I had a fantastic day. I haven’t flown in nearly two weeks because of weather and my vacation, so this was definitely a confidence boost.  As I said before, my worst landing today was silky smooth compared to my landings over the past month.  It felt great, and most of all, I really felt like I was the master of my machine.  I felt like a pilot!