April 18th, 2010

airplane outside

Flew to Hutchinson

Yesterday was calm and clear so Marc and I took a plane out to Hutchinson to eat some steak. We'd both been busy in the morning... I had a prenatal massage, he had an early afternoon DJ gig to get ready for. But around 3 we were free, I had a plane reserved, so we set off.

Making that "go" decision is always so freaking complicated! Winds were straight out of the east, there was no doubt about that, and it makes life difficult because all the runways around are generally north-south. I'm not game for some crazy 20 knot crosswind. But I was getting conflicting information on just how windy it was... weird stuff, like seven gusting to 20 at one airport, 13 at another, nine with no gusts at another. ASOS is continuously updated and just couldn't make up its mind. But it felt good outside, there were lots of limp flags I could see. And there were only like three planes parked outside... that's often my final decision factor, if everyone else is going, I'll go too.

Well the way out there was bumpy as hell. Crap. On top of that we were going to an airport I'd never been to before. It was only a 20 minute flight, I hand flew the whole time, I was worried about what wind I'd really encounter at Hutch. Then when we came in I got distracted looking for other traffic and forgot to pull power back, I was 500 feet above the ground at like 120 knots and had to do a go-around because there was no way I'd lose all that speed in time to land.

I told Marc that go-arounds happen all the time. I think that's true. I had a ground school instructor tell us once that if you're flying into a new airport or a new runway, just plan to do a go-around. I should have listened. Anyway tower had me do a left pattern and asked me, "Same intention on this next approach?"

Hadn't heard that sort of phrase before, I was kind of confused, I was like "Well, I don't intend to go around again if that's what you're asking." He got me to clarify full stop. Okay, fine. Wichita's the only towered airport I'd ever landed at before this, I knew there could be some communication interestingness. After our landing, which was not perfect, the tower gave me a lot more taxi instructions than I'm used to which also had me frazzled because it felt like he was expecting me to do something really wrong. By the time we got to the terminal, I was replaying every radio call in my head, my stomach was jumpy from the turbulence, and I did not feel much like eating.

But food has a way of tasting good regardless of how I'm actually feeling, so Marc and I had a very nice dinner, laughed some about the flight, and enjoyed our table overlooking the runway where we could keep an eye on the airplane and the airport windsock at the same time. The Hutchinson Airport Steakhouse is a well-known fabulous place to eat. He had prime rib, I had a filet, we barely spent $40 before tip. I also had some french onion soup that was delicious. We headed out just as the dinner rush hour was picking up and it's a good thing we did, because it was totally prom night in Hutchinson, all these kids in dresses and tuxes started sitting down.

The flight back was less windy but really hazy! I was worried we were in a cloud for a second, visibility was supposed to be 10 but the world around me seemed shaded, I engaged autopilot to give myself room to analyze the situation. Kansas is great because it's just a big patchwork quilt of farmland so if you're wondering what visibility is, you can just count how many grids you see in front of you. At 10-12, the world was fading out. It's tricky because the aviation weather always stops at visibility 10, they don't tell you what it is past that. My instructor said on a clear day visibility is really like 80, so that's what we're used to, that's why when it's really down around 10 things look very different. Luckily things only got clearer after that, Wichita was a lot better.

The runways in Wichita aren't as lined up with an east wind quite like Hutchinson's are so we had even more crosswind, but I nailed the crap out of that landing. Don't know if it was the familiar airport or what but I was really pleased with my crosswind technique. I've come to love landing the airplane, it's like riding a roller coaster but trying really hard to concentrate at the same time. I've known all week that we could be flying this weekend, and was thinking about it all week, it's so addicting.

It was also important to me because this might be my last flight for a while, we're really busy next weekend, and the weekend after that I'll be at the 34 week mark my doctor told me to quit flying at. It's sad. So I tried to really drink in this trip and enjoy it, and I'm glad we got to go, and I'm glad the leg back was so relaxing. And Marc had a great time, too! He's becoming a much better copilot... this flight I taught him to check the fuel from on top of the wing since I'm too pregnant to jump up on the strut without a ladder. He can also get tiedowns, and he's very good at airport/landmark spotting which is a big deal. And it's always nice to have someone else looking for traffic, all the time. We could have a lot of fun with this.