The last airplane I flew was the Speckled Trout. And when I say ‘flew’ I mean I was in the cockpit while the aircraft was airborne. The job of a navigator on a C-135 is about 99% mission planning and then 1% giving that mission plan to the pilot and then eating your lunch, so it’s not like I really had to work. On the B-52 the pilots (normally) are so clueless that I have to actually do something in order to ensure someone like Swami doesn’t kill anyone. Or someone like Greybeard doesn’t kill someone like Swami. Today I’m getting into a T-41C (C-172E) and I’m going to have to actually do something to ensure that someone like me doesn’t kill myself.
When I first sat in the pilot’s seat, I thought to myself, I have as much right to sit here as Ben Affleck does being Batman. But then again, I play A LOT of video games and I did get ALL of the trophies on Ace Combat 5 and the much under-appreciated prequel Ace Combat Zero. Before you laugh, you need to realize that I am talking about ALL of the trophies, even the hidden ones. So, I’m pretty much halfway to being a pilot already.
And in a world where the Pittsburgh Pirates are not only WINNING but killing it on their way to their first playoff berth in 20 years, why can’t I be a pilot? Other than a lack of work ethic, skill, desire and pride. I’m talking about me here, not the Pittsburgh Pirates.
So there I sat, in the seat labeled “Pilot in Command.” To be honest with you it was cramped and uncomfortable. Also, it took me 30 minutes to adjust my seat, so EFF YOU Cessna. I don’t care what the chief mechanic says, that damn seat was broken when I sat in it. It didn’t help that when I was trying to adjust the seat I grabbed the dash to pull myself forward and I ripped off the dash. So I guess I mean it took 30 minutes to adjust the seat and then fix the dash.
Unlike Nicole, I had no issues applying the proper amount of right rudder to compensate for p-factor on the takeoff roll, it’s just that my instructor and I had a spirited conversation on what an acceptable distance from centerline should be. He felt that the line running down the middle of the runway should run down the middle of the aircraft. I felt that the runway was 200 feet wide and I should have the freedom to explore the space. I was in the air long before I was in the grass, much to his delight.
Then I got a radio call telling me to switch to departure control, a traffic call and an immediate vector and altitude hold at the same time a damn peregrine falcon wanted to play chicken. This was when I remembered why I was a Navigator. It’s because I really suck at this. I was so much easier to just complain about the pilot’s lack of situational awareness than to have any of my own.
After a serious amount of sweat, I had the aircraft leveled off at cruising altitude and was heading out to the cluster of farmlands that I will be haunting for the next few months. It might have been easier to maintain my cruise level if I had any idea how to trim. I hope that comes later. Maybe there’s a book about the subject. After level off I immediately wanted to perform a standard B-52 or KC-135 station-check, but soon found out that I had no oxygen panel, no oven and no urinal. There were also no weapons to align and target, no air refueling track to adjust timing to, and no F-35 to find in the airspace and no Chase aircraft to complain about my general lack of airspeed control. After level off, it was kinda boring.
So to liven things up, we tried to land. And by we, I mean me. My instructor laughed at me the entire time. He told me that this plane was so safe that there was no way that I could kill us. Really? Just like Obi-wan and Anakin, he underestimates my power. And you underestimate my geekiness if you think that’s the last Star Wars reference you’ll see in this blog.
I was already familiar with the traffic pattern and all the radio calls associated with it, which for some reason impressed my instructor. If only he knew how many agonizing hours I spent in the pattern while Greybeard ridiculed Mo or Jaguar on their landing (dis)abilities. As I lined up on the runway I could hear Greybeard’s voice in my head, “Aimpoint, Airspeed, Airmpoint, Airspeed, Dumbass.”
IP: Line up your fuselage with the runway.
Me: I am lined up.
IP: No you’re not.
Me: Yes I am.
IP: [looks over at my feet] Put your damn feet on the rudder pedals.
Me: [thinking of my Viper pals (Spike, Ratt, Neo)] I’m supposed to use those?
(That was an inside joke for those F-16 guys at TPS who don’t use the rudder… at all… ever.)
I crossed the threshold of the runway and accepted the fact that I was not on airspeed, my aimpoint had shifted several times, and I was ‘relatively’ close to the centerline. I decided that this was about as good as this landing was going to get. Throttle to idle. Pull back on the yoke to round out my flare. At least, that’s how it went in my head. In reality it was an atrociously horrible over rotation on the flare at least 10 feet too high. Instead of ‘landing’ I stalled the airplane 10 feet over the runway and fell onto the concrete.
Which, if you’re keeping score, is a VICTORY. It was a safe landing, which by my account is a success. It might not make the wall of fame, but I’ll never forget it.
PS. The airplane is fine. Nothing broke… So far.