License to learn

The other day, I was contemplating on doing some work in the hangar, with my friend Daniel helping. After a brunch with Wei, my old friend from Seattle, it was time for some serious work. Daniel and I decided to hit Starbucks first, before rolling out the proverbial selves, and attack the mess in the hangar – read we were procrastinating. It was pouring buckets all morning. When we got back from Starbucks, we noticed some clearing happening over the airport, and more of the blue stuff forcing its way in from the west. Forget the hangar work; it is flying time. With the Colt out of the hangar, and the preflight done, we were ready to go flying. OK, circuits only, since the thick cloud cover extended well to the east.

A small jet, Eclipse I think, was practicing landings on the active runway. A twin departed for an IFR flight. It was quite blustery; the cheerfully bobbing windsock supported this quite vividly. Only the jet was braving the winds. The weather was officially VFR, the Colt was out of the hangar and ready, so I had no excuse. The ATIS wind information was not exactly an invitation for flying. Winds from southwest, a bit of a crosswind at 12 knots, gusting to 20 knots, scattered clouds all over, not another soul in the sky, and the Eclipse finally gave up – perfect flying conditions eh? We spent about half an hour doing circuits. The gusts were for real all right, but Daniel was grinning so all was good. I noticed more clearing to the east, so I decided to go and have a closer look. The tower cleared us for a Nickel departure, and we were on our way.

Flying at 2000 over Langley control zone, we heard the tower telling someone about the unidentified aircraft overhead. I called the tower, introduced ourselves and told them that we will turn some more of our lights on for them to be able to see us better. The tower acknowledged, and suddenly we had a name. I intended to go further east, but the cloud cover did not look good over the Mission Bridge, so I decided to turn back. While having fun dogging puffy clouds, trying to stay clear of them, and heading due west, I looked to my right and felt an uncomfortable tension in my gut. We were at 2000 feet, and to my right, and below, was Pitt Meadows Airport. Yeah, we busted the control zone. While I was dodging the clouds, the wind from the southwest did its thing, and pushed us in. I called the tower and apologized, which seemed to have helped the situation, but will they report me to the Czar, a nagging question that stayed with me for the rest of the flight.

I elected to descend to 1100 and head for the Alex Fraser Bridge. The Boundary Bay ATIS broadcast the winds at 15 knots, still from southwest, but now gusting 24. The tower cleared us to left base as number one to runway 12, no other aircraft around. I trimmed my approach for extra speed margin, appropriate for the gusts, and after some very real jolts on the final, made a quite nice lending. Right wheel touched first, left immediately thereafter, and with full aft stick we slowed down, exited “delta”, crossed 07, with the blessing from the tower of course, and in a few minutes, we were back at the hangar.

I am glad we went. I learned some more about my little plane. I will say again, Mr. Piper had this one right; it is a sweet plane to fly. I am a low time pilot, but the plane pitched in to make me look good, and especially in the gusting conditions. I also like the short wing. I learned that coming in with some power makes for smoother landings, and once down the plane stays put. It will be a nice plane for shorter fields, no floating tendencies. Once I get a few more hours in it, it will be one sweet plane to fly almost anywhere – unless you are on a hurry. Oh yes, Daniel is going to get his own license, a further testament to the plane’s fine behavior, even in the hands of a rookie aviator flying in less than perfect flying weather.

The discomfort about busting the Pitt Meadows control zone dissipated somewhat only after I phoned the tower to apologize once more. They were very good about it, but I will be much more vigilant about this sort of stuff from now on. Someone once told me that the Pilot License is only a license to learn, right on, I just learned something. Wind can get you into a trouble more than one way. I wrote 1.1 into my logbook, and with a satisfying feeling of a good day’s fun, I went home to look after my granddaughter. Violet’s parents were out for her dad’s, my son’s, birthday dinner. We built Lego castles all evening.

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