Want to get better?

If you want to get better at anything, you need to make hard the norm. I was flying yesterday this morning, and as often happens when I am flying my airplane, I got to thinking about things. The leaves are all changing colors, the air is getting cold and clear. I started thinking about my early flight lessons from years ago, and decided to go back to the airport I learned to fly at.

About two or three years ago, I decided to move my aircraft to a new airport, which is litterally three minutes driving time from my home. The airport I was based at, and learned how to fly at, was a forty minute drive from my home. The new airport is more of a community oriented airport, with smiling faces, and warm greetings. Starkly contrasted to my first airport which was very industrial, and professional, with razor wire lining the property and guys with guns waiting for something to happen. It was a small hub for regional airliners to load the tiny cattle cars in order to transport the “livestock” to a larger cattle car to the travellers final destination.

Clearly I Moved to a Better Place

Well, yes and no. Moving to a community focused airport has it’s ups and downs. As mentioned, the people are great, (except for one club…) but the airport is a locally known as a challenging airport. The airport sits at one of the higher elevations in the valley where I live, and has a small ridge right next to the field which causes the prevailing south-westerly winds to be tricky right after takeoff as well as right before landing, the two times when general aviation pilots are normally most flustered.

Moreover the airport is litterally the shortest paved runway in my state. Needless to say, I am the only Mooney on the field.

Mooney’s have this bad rap for requiring hot landings. What I mean is, people seem to think that you need to be cruising at 85mph over the fence at the airport to stick a Mooney landing. Fortunately for me I was trained in my airplane by a CFI who loved and respected Mooney’s, and who taught me that how to handle my bird.
There are lots of reports about bouncy Mooney landings that cause a propeller to strike the ground due to pilots not properlly sheding speed on final.

With these challenges, the first year at this new airport was difficult, and scary.

Back to the Point

I started by mentioning my flight from today. I went to my old airport, (a 6000 ft long runway) from my current airport, (a 2300 ft long runway) to practice a little at my old haunt. I called the airport traffic on the radio 10 miles out, mentioned my intentions to land at 5 miles out, mentioned I was entering the downwind leg of the traffic pattern at 1 mile out. I followed the runway off my left hand wing, lowered the gear, dropped a 15 degrees of flaps at the numbers (at the end of the runway). Turned base and final dropping another 15 degrees of flaps and reduced throttle to about 1700 rpm, and started calmly descending into my old airport.

Something magical happened

I litterally flared and touched down on the runway at the threshold. A perfect greaser of a landing, right on the numbers, and came to a stop well before the big fat thousand foot bars on the runway. When I was training to become a pilot, I recall having to take about 5000 feet of that runway to land that airplane before…

Obviously, with experience comes skill, but I believe something more was at work. I feel like my move to a more challenging airport, in my more challenging aircraft made me better than the casual pilot who rents an airplane. At my current airport I MUST land within 1000 feet, and at the threshold more or less, or I risk running off the end of the runway and crashing into a fence.

I believe when people train in harder situation, and make hard the norm they do themselves a favor in the long run.