I woke up on time, walked out to the balcony to wait for my roommate to leave the bathroom so I could start my day. It was pouring, like yesterday. My heart sank, I could barely believe that the weather would be this foul two days in a row. Cats and dogs. I deliberately slowed down my pace, knowing fully well I would be late when the cab starts honking its horn. I was fifteen minutes late. The chief was already in the cab, and as soon as i closed the door, he turned to me with a grin and asked if i'd overslept. I did not offer an explanation.
There was just enough light when we reached the airfield. Miraculously, the rain had stopped in the course of our twenty odd minute commute, and there was even a break in the clouds. The chief turned to me and asked me to get alpha delta (tail number) flight ready asap. I looked in disbelief, then i ran before he could repeat himself. Checklists, sunglasses, headset, notebook and map in hand, i flew through the corridors, out the door, into the apron. Engineering department scrambled after me, they were to clear the airplane before i could pre-flight it. we did our checks in parallel. me on one side, engineering on the other. fuel was drained and checked, wings were clambered on, oil was wiped off on trouser legs, alpha delta was ready.
While we were doing the startup checks, alpha mike started up and left for the runway. We followed behind, stopping behind them on the taxiway. I was still not fully familiar with taxiing, chief was handling the plane on the ground through the tricky parts. He was assisting with the checks as well, and handled radios himself. once alpha mike departed, we started our checks. stood on the brakes and throttled up to full power to conduct magneto tests, and once all was clear, we lined up. from here on, the aircraft was mine. i peeled my eyes for 55 knots on the display, while struggling to keep her on runway centreline. at 55 knots, she started the climb without much help from my side. alpha delta was in a hurry to get things going. we were soon on course for training area juliet. we were hoping for area bravo, which is easier to get to, but alpha mike beat us to it.
The lessons went by, one after the other. climb, descend, turn, level. I remembered the chiefs words about level flight being the toughest. I was determined to keep the airplane +/- 50 feet and +/- 5 degrees of specified altitude and heading. I was not successful initially, but managed fairly well by the end of the sortie. I heard the distinctly tamilian accent of my roommate, left seat in alpha mike, making baby steps in radio phraseology. he did a radio check call. chief suddenly got the same idea, and asked me to do the next call. it was time for us to return, and i said into the radio
"Victor Alpha Delta, inbound from Juliet, request rejoin runway three five"
"Victor Alpha Delta, descend to three thousand, report overhead", tower responded.
"Overhead three thousand, alpha delta", I acknowledged. Chief wasn't expecting me to do that. He did not know that I've had practice. He gave me an emphatic thumbs up indicating his approval. Perhaps a bit too emphatic for the cramped confines of our Cessna. Approach was uneventful, and this time he started helping me only at about twenty feet above ground. My own landing is a while away, though I can wait.
I hung around the hangar, since a second flight was tentative. I sat in the ATC tower listening to calls being made by airborne colleagues, wondering if the weather will pack up before i got airborne again. Three o clock seemed a long time away. I decided to check with the chief, and went and poked my head into his office. He wasn't there, but he had seen me when standing below in the hangar, and was making comical hailing gestures to get my attention. I walked over and he said to be ready in an hour, we were going again. What exactly we were flying for, I had no idea, since we weren't briefed on the next lesson. Did I care? No, I was gonna fly. I hung around the place with my flight paraphernalia, and as soon as he landed again, started with my paperwork. Pre-flight was quicker, i noted with joy, and having verified that we had just about enough fuel for two and a half hours, we set off on another hours sortie. This time there were fewer words from the right seat. I was handling radios right from the start.
In fact, there was hardly any help coming from the right seat. I soon had the propellers turning, and found out that I will be taxiing as well. Once I was done with the rather thrilling experience of the full throttle and magneto tests, I found out that I was to be backtracking and lining up as well. It takes a lot to place confidence in a rookie to do a differential braking 180 degree turn, and i did my best not to bungle it. With some wrestling, we were lined up and ready for departure. Clearances were acquired, and we were rolling. This sortie was to be something else entirely. As soon as we were airborne, we were buffeted by winds. Cloud base was low, and winds were gusting, and to make things worse, I was in too steep a climb. There was a nonstop stream of instructions from the right seat that i struggled to follow, though never once was control taken away.
As we climbed, we passed about twenty feet under an eagle. A beautiful, majestic, magnificent bird, every detail of it etched in my mind. Seeing the bird pass by so close scared the living daylights out of me, and I saw the bird in slow motion, drinking in the details which triggered off a series of thoughts in my head that are best left for another post. Chief did not seem overly perturbed, so we continued with the program. We headed to the assigned training area, only to find that it had started raining there. It was amazing, flying in the rain. I could not see a damn thing out the window that would help me fly the plane, but unlike inside a cloud, you could still see vague shapes and colours which was a bit reassuring. I later went through the even whiteness inside a cloud, and that was a little weird since you have no visual cues whatsoever. The clouds were everywhere, and we had to weave between them.
ATC assigned us a different area, and we headed there only to find the same story. It was raining there as well, though slightly less. We decided to make the best of the situation, and I learnt about climbing turns, level turns and descending turns while turning to avoid nasty clouds. Doing all of this while being buffeted about in our tiny cessna, and making radio calls all the while, was testing to say the least. I kept missing out little things, though I suppose there's enough time to perfect all of that. The second half of the flight was almost wordless, with the chief making only hand gestures when he wanted me to do something, and occasionally saying 'good, excellent' when i anticipated something he wanted me to do. which, of course, i obviously got a kick out of. lessons complete, we headed back for the airfield. i botched the approach this time, though, and turned in too high. chief took over at this point and flew her down, since we wouldve had to go around if i had continued flying, and with weather threatening to pack up, none of us were too keen on spending more time in the air. we came in for a bouncy landing, and i was given the job of taxiing alpha delta back to the apron. the debrief was short and positive, so after helping push the airplane into position on the ramp and completing the post flight paperwork, we went our separate ways for lunch.
I found out that the chief sardar was looking for me, since I apparently wasn't scheduled to fly. the rest of my colleagues had been rounded up and sent to a lecture while i was darting in and out of clouds. I was drained from the flying, but i my grin widened a few millimeters when i found out that not only was i the only one to fly, everyone else was stuck in a boring lecture. It was a good day, and the flight story continues..