I am sure there are a lot of people like me who have started something in their life and then gave up on it. Only to find that years later they still had a strong desire to finish it. I am the type of person who hates to not finish anything. I don’t like to quit.
That desire to finish everything I start had really began to nag at me as of recent due to not finishing my pilots license years ago. When I was 15 I started taking flight lessons and finished my first 20 hours right before my 16th birthday. A few days after I became legally of age to solo I was given the opportunity to do so. I told the flight instructor I did not think I was ready and the wind that day at Hendersonville Airport, 0A7, was pretty bad. He told me I was fine and to just relax. So before I had ever driven a car by myself I took off from runway 33 and as I started to climb away from the airport I felt pretty good. I felt comfortable and my confidence increased.
Landing at Hendersonville on the 33 runway means you have to come over some trees and then drop some altitude to land, or at least it did in 96. I don’t know how large the trees were but it always felt as if they were hundreds of feet tall. I remember being too high and since my confidence had bloated to a dangerous size I decided to just perform a quick slip to drop some altitude. I blame my ego, no one wants to have to go around on their first solo landing. I am not sure 100% all the factors that came into play but I think I held the slip a bit too long and when I flared to touch down I pretty much just bounced. The plane got a little out of hand and was all over the place so I put the power back on and did a go around.
I was pretty shaken up by the whole ordeal and then it occurred to me that if I couldn’t get the plane back on the ground I had no idea what to do. After a bit of reasoning and puttering in the pattern I decided that I’d relax, try it again, and if it didn’t work I’d just fly to Asheville airport and land there if I had to. Not really the greatest plan but it the best my 16 year old brain could come up with in a hurry. The second landing was great, as good as any landing I had ever done. Came over the trees just right, cut the engine, settled down, flared and taxied clear of the runway. I got out of the plane and never went back. So after a 15 year “break” I decided to go back and finish it.
Luckily since I had last been working on my license the FAA had approved another category of license called the Sport Pilot’s License. So the desire to do it with the decreased overall cost involved got me interested enough to go back and try it again. I first called Hendersonville airport since I especially wanted to finish what I started, where I started. They told me that they did not offer Sport Pilot instruction so I searched around and wasn’t coming up with much for Sport Pilot instruction anywhere in Western North Carolina. Not in Asheville, Hendersonville, or anywhere. Then I saw a reference to Greg Collins at Blue Ridge Sport Flight. After a quick phone call I had an appointment to meet with Greg that afternoon to talk about the license and to meet him to see if we clicked. I think that it is easier to learn from someone you get along well with.
We met later that day and I thought immediately that Greg was a pretty cool cat. He was nice, clear, and had a list of impressive certifications and experience. He taught with two airplanes. A Cessna 172 and a 7AC Aeronca Champ for the Sport Pilot instruction. I was used to flying in a Cessna 152 so the Aeronca Champ and all it’s tail-dragging glory interested me. We set up an appointment to go up the next week to see what I thought.
I began to get more and more nervous as the day approached to go back up in the air. Fifteen years is a long enough time for you mind to take a small situation and make it huge! When the time finally came we spent about 30 minutes talking about the plane, the preflight procedures, the STCs this particular plane had, a few ADs the FAA had issued, and the general high points of a taildragger. Preflight complete, we climbed into “Champ” and Greg led me through how to taxi a taildragger like the Champ as opposed to the ease of driving a Cessna around. After the quick and simple run-up for the Champ he let me push the power on and get the airplane up in the air.
Anyone who has flown an airplane knows that feeling when you first take off. You feel it when you are in an airplane but when you have the controls it is a whole different feeling. I am not going to lie, feeling that again made me pretty nervous. I tried to settle down but I kept thinking back to my earlier experience. After about 15 minutes and some 5 degree turns I started to settle down! Yeah, that’s right, 5 degrees. They may of been 10, but definitely not even close to 15! The longer we flew the more it started to calm down, the wind was light to moderate but it was pretty choppy. That combined with the readjustment to the concepts of yaw and the use of rudders had me pretty taxed out. As we entered the pattern I felt relieved. The little Champ had wore me out, both mentally and physically in its own way. We lined up on the runway, and Greg walked me through a nice and easy three-point landing. Back on the ground I felt good about it and I was ready to go back up. We setup an appointment for the next week and I went home.
I wasn’t even all the way home yet when I started to remember how much fun I used to have in airplanes, around airplanes, reading about airplanes. I even remembered that my high school ring has an airplane on the side of it. It was my only hobby for a few years. I used to know specs of different airplanes by heart and dreamed of somehow making enough money to someday own a Cessna 337.
The next lesson could not come fast enough and when it did I saw something really rare for Western North Carolina. The METAR said there was no wind. None! It was a great day, warm and calm. Greg said we would just stay in the pattern since we had no wind and we did full stop landings for about an hour and twenty minutes. At the end of my second lesson I felt more confident and comfortable flying the little Champ. There is nothing that will make you feel good about a plane like doing landings over and over and not botching any of them up. I also got to practice taxing the little Champ around some more. Coming from tricycle gear airplanes it is awkward for me in the taildragger.
So for now I am about two and a half hours back into it and have an appointment to fly again soon. So with around 23 hours of total flight time I know that a solo is in my near future and I think I am better suited this time to it. Thanks to Greg I will be better prepared also. The main thing that has changed is that now, thanks to Champ, I day dream about Piper PA-22/20 Tri-Pacers and Cessna 140s.