This past weekend I went flying twice, something I've not yet done. Usually I only fly Saturdays because my instructor takes Sundays off, but this weekend I was on my own, allowing me to fly both days.
My instructor had cleared me to practice solo pattern work at Hayward (KHWD), with certain weather restrictions. On Saturday, the plan was to see how the weather conditions were shaping up, if they were favorable I would work solo, otherwise we would continue with our backup plan of a dual lesson.
Fortunately the weather was within my restrictions, and I decided to go up on my own to fly in circles. "Exercise good judgement" my instructor said as I prepped for the flight. Unlike my previous solo work, he wouldn't be joining me for a pre-flight and warm-up; the success or failure of my flight would be wholly based on my judgement and abilities.
With the appropriate gate codes, I pulled through the gate at the south-east end of the field, and drove towards the green ramp where the Ugly Duckling awaited. The excitement of my first solo was one thing, but the excitement and anxiousness that accompanied me while I pre-flighted the plane alone, was a different story.
Winds were 8 knots at 260; I double checked on my whiz-wheel what the cross-wind component was before I even finished my pre-flight. Currently I have a 7 knot cross-wind restriction, and I've had some tough lessons in the past with cross-winds. As I stepped into the cockpit, I slid the whiz-wheel in the pocket by my left leg so I could periodically check my cross-winds between landings and take-offs.
"Hayward ground, cessna seven-three-seven-golf-mike, student pilot, solo, at the green ramp, request taxi to two-eight-left with information x-ray"
"Seven-three-seven-golf-mike, taxi via alpha for two-eight-left"
Off I putted towards the run-up area, alone. Running through my taxi checklists, and subsequently my run-up checklists, talking through each item to the empty right seat, with a nervous pit in my stomach.
With clearance from tower, the Ugly Duckling and I centered up on the runway and took to the sky.
The first landing wasn't too bad! Right of centerline, not too soft, but not too hard either. Battling the mild cross-wind on final approach proved more challenging than I thought it would be. Maintaining centerline, dipping the upwind wing to battle some of the drift, slight changes in the wind velocity, lots going on at once.
I ended up going wings level before the main wheels touched down, which likely caused my drift over towards the right.
Second landing was almost the same story, with some side-loading because I didn't work the rudder enough to keep my momentum totally aligned with the runway.
Third, and fourth circuits I ended up performing go-arounds. The cross-wind, and my handling thereof were ending up in sloppy approaches.
Fifth time around, the wind had picked up. I ended up only using 10 degrees of flaps on final approach instead of the 20 degrees from the previous two attempts, and managed to land with some floating, feeling for the runway again.
As I taxiing back to start of 28L, I called tower and asked for current wind conditions. 11 knots from 260. After consulting my whiz-wheel, I decided the cross-wind component was too close to my limit.
"Hayward Tower, cessna seven-three-seven-golf-mike, I'm going to go ahead and terminate"
"Seven-three-seven-golf-mike, cross 28L to alpha, contact ground point four."
My day was over; I wasn't happy about it.
On Sunday, the weather was looking great with some light and variable winds. Just as the day before, I picked up the flight binder and a headset from the office, let my car into the gate, and parked in front of the Ugly Duckling.
Same routine as the day prior, pre-flight, whiz-wheel in the side pocket, same call-up to Ground, and off I was, putting along towards the run-up area for 28L.
Unlike the day prior however, the winds were calm enough to permit lots of practice circuits before calling it a day.
On one circuit, I had to extend my downwind to accomodate a banner towing plane, resulting in a longer than usual final approach which allowed me to focus on my speed. My only greaser of the day; with speed properly dialed in, it's far easier to set a plane down gently.
On a subsequent circuit, a Beech Starship was holding short of 28L while I approached. A beautiful plane, which I had no time to admire as I flared too early, sunk a bit, crammed the power and went around.
A couple more circuits and I was finished for the day, not due to weather but rather because I was getting tired. 8 circuits, 7 landings and 1.3 hours of running Ugly Duckling's engine, a good day's work.
Acting as pilot-in-command without my instructor watching from the ground, even if it's only for flying in circles around Hayward at 650ft, is pretty exciting.
After dropping the binder off in the office and chatting for a bit, I walked to the car with my sunglasses on, boost in my step, feeling like a pilot.
A pilot who's nearly at the bottom of the ladder experience-wise, with thousands of hours of experience to gain ahead of me, but still, at least I'm on the ladder now.