Stranded In The Southland

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Those Scalp Wounds Sure Do Bleed...

I keep reading about my nephew and my friends boys (always the boys!) banging the crap out of their heads. I just shudder, remembering my various trips to the emergency room as a kid. I still have an inch-long scar on my forehead from tripping while running up the bleachers in the third grade. Doh.

So I was particularly pleased to prong myself on a towel hanger in the bathroom the other day, bending down quickly to look under the cabinet for my heart rate monitor. I just wasn't thinking, and caught the very top of my forehead on the hook, putting a little dent into my head and tearing the skin in an L-shaped wound.

I hit it hard enough to cause a couple splurts of blood to be thrown down my forehead, but not hard enough to cause a concussion or anything. It bled for awhile, as scalp wounds do, and then seemed okay. I mean, there weren't great gouts of blood on the floor the way there would've been if I'd really nailed it. M. insisted that I didn't need stitches, and she seems to be pretty much right, as it stopped bleeding and seems to be healing up.

But -- just -- doh! I thought I was over all that.

Trying Out A New Airport

I've been anxious to try flying to a new airport without an instructor along. You'd think that flying to an airport would be like driving to a new town -- read the map, make a few turns, and show up, right? Sadly, aviation is a little different. Each airport has characteristic landmarks that you use when you report in on the radio, and airports often have specific procedures that aren't immediately obvious (or documented). You kind of have to fly with someone there to figure out what's going on. (This is known in the literary trade as foreshadowing, I'm told.)

Anyway, I carefully prepared for this flight, driving by El Monte Airport, checking the satellite photos on Google, and even visualizing ("chair flying") the flight. I had no trouble getting the plane, requesting flight following (so the controllers look out for other traffic for me), and boppin' on up into the air. The old Cherokee just zipped up to 4,500 feet, and then, as requested, pretty much fell out of the air right away to get back down to 1,400 feet to land at El Monte.

Unfortunately (as I'd been warned by the Flight Service folks on the phone), there was a bunch of haze in the LA basin that came right up to El Monte. It was beautiful at Chino, but I had trouble seeing even five miles to El Monte as I came up on it. The controller kind of vectored me towards the airport ("southwest of you") and suggested I come in on a "modified straight-in". I naively turned towards the airport and acknowledged I'd come in on the modified straight-in. Fortunately, the controller figured out that I had no idea what he meant by "modified" (I should've said that I was unfamiliar with the airport[*]), set me right, resequenced the guy he was trying to work in front of me (by giving the poor bastard a 360 for spacing) and I made it down with no further problems.

I apologized as I was handed off to ground control, but the tower seemed to think that it was no big deal. That's probably more a testimony to the lame-ass flying that private pilots seem to get away with every day, than because it didn't matter. Argh, hopefully I'll learn from this and do better next time.

I had a great trip back to Chino, did a few touch and goes, and dropped in for an absolute greaser at the end. I'd been trying to remember to keep pulling back on the yoke as I flare (so that I touch down softly and with the nose wheel high), and I finally managed it perfectly, with the tires barely chirping as I set the plane down with nary a bump. Woo hoo!

[*] Reviewing the Pilot's Guide to California Airports at home, ummm, yeah, they listed that modified straight-in, and mentioned that I should've come in over the drainage canal next to the airport. This was totally due to sloppiness on my part. I'll make sure it goes down differently next time. :-(

Finally Back In The Air

Pwhew, it's been awhile since I've been flying, as I was having some troubles getting access to the plane I'd been training in. First of all, it turned out that as soon as I went from student to private pilot, the flight school's insurance didn't cover me any longer, so I had to get some coverage (yow, I should've actually had coverage as a student, just in case!)

Then there were a couple of weeks of hassle as they tried to get the plane in for the inspection required of all rental aircraft after 100 hours of use. They couldn't inspect it until nearly the 100 hours were up, but somebody was going to get that last hour or so, then that failed and the plane sat around for a week unused 'cause nobody thought it was available, et cetera. It's amazing to me that these guys manage to stay in business.

Anyway, I got up Friday morning and spent some time in the pattern. I managed a few decent landings -- nothing I was really proud of, but nothing that was scaring me. Hopefully now I can continue with a series of flights to push the edges of my comfort zone and keep me learning!