|VT-CAD -Faithful steed so far..|
That was the call for me to start running. It might as well have been the wail of an air raid siren, given the urgency with which I ran down the spiral staircase from the air traffic control tower. The tower is a favourite hangout of mine, I can spend hours sitting there helping the controllers, keeping a lookout for dogs with the binoculars, listening to the radio chatter.. I had gone up there early in the morning since I knew I was number two in the schedule for today, and I had time to kill. The chief, under whose tutelage I am, likes to have his pupils ready with the paperwork by the time he walks into the hangar after parking his aircraft, so that the next sortie can begin with the minimum of delay. He rues the fact that the DGCA lets him fly only six hours a day, and I suspect he would fly at least double that if things were left to him. I take one last glance at the LCD screen with the weather displayed on it, making a mental note of the outside air temperature and the QNH (pressure), and hightail it out of there.
I have a routine going. If I start the paperwork when he's on final approach, I can get it done by the time he parks. Today he's on a super short final, so I have to run. And I have to run faster because I left my headset in the classroom instead of bringing it to the hangar with me. I'm already using the temperature and pressure information to do the preflight calculations in my head as i run to fetch my headset. I haven't been using math much in the past many years, so I'm prone to mistakes, and these will be cross checked on a scientific calculator app on my android phone after I fill out the necessary dispatch forms. I run into a colleague on the way, there's no time for pleasantries, but i have to stop anyway. This throws off my calculations, and I start again as I start running. Ten minutes later, paperwork has been filled and signed, and I'm standing at the edge of the apron waiting to head to preflight. I've beaten him by about 30 seconds, and feel a bit smug about it. Maybe the student he was with was taxiing too slow.
No words are exchanged as I'm waved off to do the preflight for my sortie on the very same aircraft that just landed, Alpha Delta. She's our regular bird, and I like her quite a bit. She's a bit of a drama queen and we've had our adventures, and i'd prefer a drama queen over a hangar queen any day. I take off across the apron towards her, not unlike a relay runner who's just been handed the baton. It's my way of putting the chief on notice : your break is short, man, I'm gonna get her flight ready before you can spell out her callsign. But today, that was not to be. As i walked around to the nose, i saw it was covered in blood and feathers. Same story with the propellers, as well as the air filter intake. I debated whether to call maintenance right away, or go ahead and preflight it before calling them. I chose the latter, since there didn't seem to be any damage (though maintenance would be the final authority on that) and the victim seemed to be a small bird, possibly a sparrow, judging from the feathers.
I preflighted alpha delta, and then called the chief over and showed him the evidence. He had not even realized that they had struck a bird, and that further cemented my sparrow theory. Maintenance were called to take a look, and they opened up the engine cowling to confirm that there was no damage, nor were there any bird remnants inside. We were cleared to go, and ten minutes later, we were at 5000 feet cursing the clouds that were towering all around us. The lesson for today was stalls, and we could barely manage any thanks to deteriorating weather, and we soon called the tower to let them know we were returning. We reached overhead the airfield and were soon descending into the circuit pattern for approach. He was letting me do all the flying , and I was trying my best to keep her at 60-65 knots in a controlled descent with flaps down.
At each turn in the pattern, I would make the appropriate radio call. Radios are wicked cool, and I love the way they make you sound. I wish i could travel faster than light (and therefore, radio waves) so that I can make a radio call and be at the other end to figure what i sound like (:P). or i could get someone to record it for me, but somehow that just won't cut it. back to the story, i was gliding down, all parameters within limits, and we were approaching the point where we turn for final approach. Usually when the weather packs up, I hand over controls before we commence approach, and he usually flies it down while i keep my hands on the control column to feel and understand whats going on . Today, despite the weather threatening a massive tantrum, i still had the controls. Turn finals, the command came. And i began the turn, fighting to keep everything nice and green, expecting him to take over soon. Call the tower, next command. This was even more unexpected, since he was usually in the habit of stepping in and helping with radio calls when i'm overloaded with the mere task of controlling the airplane. This was contrary to that, piling it on in a situation i didn't think i was on top of. I added the radio call to my already overflowing plate, and promptly began losing altitude, a fact i noticed only after the radio call. this, though, did not stop me from trying to sound as cool as possible on the radio, trying to emulate a veteran airline pilot on an instrument approach into a busy major airport.
The chief drew my attention to my altitude, and the smugness of having made a decent radio call evaporated, and I was soon fighting to regain height. The current path would see me landing in the trees outside the runway fence, and we certainly did not want that. At this point, it struck me that he had no intentions of taking over controls. I looked at him enquiringly, and he waved for me to keep going. The inquisitive look away from the instruments cost me airspeed, so further corrections were in order. I completed the turn, and ended up nice and straight and level, about 80 feet left of the runway. The chief turned with a look that said 'what do you think you're doing?', and i immediately started wrestling the Cessna to the right to align with the runway in the very short time we had left. Kill power, the command came, and i pulled out the throttle. we were gliding down for the runway, it was looming up faster than i'd imagined it would, but then theory lessons came back in a rush when i felt the plane float in ground effect. I kicked the rudder for some last minute corrections, and heard 'good' from the right seat, since I had anticipated correctly. The wheels came down with a sound that was halfway between a thud and a crunch, and we were down, for a millisecond. We bounced back into the air, and must've travelled 30-50 feet down the runway by my estimation. The call came from the right to pull back on the controls, but i did not respond quickly enough, so the chief took over and brought us down a second time, and handed over to me to roll out and taxi. None of this would be reflected in the taxi clearance radio call, for which i would assume my airline pilot impression once again, giving no indication of the excitement i had just been through.
There was something I had omitted in the story so far, it was the chief's birthday today. As we were going through the pre startup checks, he got a phone call, and I initially thought he was talking to me, not having seen the phone tucked under his headset. His son had called to wish him from back home. I was told that he wanted to spend his birthday with the family, but couldn't because too many students were waiting to be cleared. My respect for his job (as well as those of the assistant flight instructors) increases by the day. I have been fortunate to have a lot of amazing teachers in my life, but these guys are a level apart. While not discounting the others, it has to be said that it takes a lot of guts to get into the cockpit day after day, hour after hour, placing their confidence and perhaps even lives in the hands of novice after novice putting the plane through their stupidities. And that realization alone is enough for me to put in all the effort i possibly can.