As a pilot, I find that you always have an opportunity lurking around a cloud to learn something new, improve your current skills, or experience something new and exciting. Well, if you are interested. The challenges you put yourself up to can be limitless, or within your budget would probably be more accurate.
It will be 5 years in June since I started flying. Every year since obtaining my licence in 2014, I have put challenges up on my « bucket » list for the year. One of my first challenges, after getting my private pilot licence, was to do a cross country solo, of my own choosing. I rented a Cessna 172 from Lachute and flew to Gatineau then Maniwaki, and back from there to Lachute. I remember I had to talk to myself a lot to not just give up thinking of all the things that could go wrong. I don’t know how many times I wanted to just cancel, or turn around and go back to what was to me familiar territory. After completing the trip, I felt proud and content to have done it.
The idea is to get yourself out of your confort zone, safely. To keep yourself learning, to become the best pilot you can be. Safely could mean getting out of your confort zone with another pilot (instructor or not), more experienced perhaps, also called a safety pilot. It could give you more time to learn something or give you the confidence you need for the next time.
I have had the chance to fly in a Cessna 170, taildragger, for a few years now. Accumulated hours in them, as a passenger and PIC (pilot in command). This taildragger is such a great and fun airplane to fly. When I started, only taxiing on the ground was a challenge. You need to be good on your feet work. (Some call it having happy feet.) Really, until you can master taxiing, no point in hoping to successfully handle the takeoff. It’s the same thing, but faster, plus you need to lift it up the ground properly and handle the tail when it comes up. You have to fly it all the time, and it has a will of its own. Same for the landing.
September 21, 2016 will be remembered forever as was one of my big days in my aviation path. I was proud to be trusted my friend’s Joe Cessna 170A for a first solo flight. My second time in the left seat! I wasn’t nervous as he had taught me well and I felt totally confident I could handle it around the circuit on that beautiful calm and sunny Fall afternoon. What I felt was a lot of excitement and pride. A feeling of accomplishment. Completing a taildragger endorsement is by far, to me, my biggest achievement. It even felt more exciting than my first solo in an airplane, which dated back in October 2012.
Why? I remember struggling to fly well that airplane and thinking that I would never dare to take it solo. After all, there aren’t many Cessna 170 left and they can be expensive to repair. But more than that, I know how much Joe loves his airplane. He rebuilt himself that airplane in the 1960s and it has been the family airplane ever since. It holds a lot of memories. I would have felt terrible if I had ruined it…
Here is a video edit of my first solo flight in the Cessna 170 taildragger in the fall of 2016 (September 21, 2016).
And some more fun I had landing it on snow a few weeks later after doing circuits at Smiths Falls, Ontario. Here is the landing at Rideau Valley – Kars, south of Ottawa.
Confidence in my skills was definitely boosted on that day. But the work remains the same. Never sit on past successes, you always have to keep working on those skills. What you don’t use, over time, you lose. (Or they get loose…)
Still, it remains etched in my memory.
How will you challenge yourself in 2017?
A warm thank you to Joe Scoles for being such a great flight instructor, and for entrusting me with his beautiful Cessna 170A.
Note: Jean-Pierre Bonin is a very talented photographer who visit many aviation events. His pictures are worth the detour. Check them out here. The picture of Joe’s airplane on takeoff was taken by him.