Learning to Fly in 23 days (Epilogue)

So Saturday afternoon I took Jackie and the family to Tampa and drove the car back to Winter Haven. I did the CAA examination and when the examiner had left there was a moment, albeit a brief one, where I was alone outside the school waiting for Gerry to finish off some paper work. The feeling is very hard to describe. The 3 weeks seems so much longer. It might be that time flies when you’re having fun but I guess my mind had to come to terms with everything I had learned and done over the past 23 days and spacing it out, it just seemed to reach much further back than 3 weeks. The sense of achievement is enormous. The feeling of positive power. Even as it was getting dark I could walk in, take out the box for a plane (The box contains the official documents, the keys, checklists etc) and fly it. This was, however, purely an academic idea. In the midst of the elation I felt tired beyond belief. The last 2 days had been more stressful than I could ever remember having felt before and suddenly the work of the past 3 weeks came back demanding rest too. Gerry and I had decided to go to one of the better local Japanese restaurants where you could get very nice Teppanyaki. We had a good time there. On a side note, though I don’t think I have a lot of prejudices I certainly had one exposed to myself: Just as we had sat down a party of four came in. The biggest guy, who sat down next to me, had a big silver ring in his nose, huge black beard, a leather vest and countless tattoos on his arms. I didn’t think it boded well for the evening but he was a really cool and very nice guy. Apparently, he was the local tattooist in the only such “shop” in Winter Haven. He had traveled all over the world and had very interesting insight into Europe, Australia and the US. Not a typical American by any measurement. It’s nice every now and then getting wake-up calls on your preconceptions.
I had an early night and went back to rest on my laurels. I had to be on the airfield for 10:00 Sunday morning as my plane was available 2 hours from 10:00-12:00. At 10:15 the student and her instructor returned the plane but since she had to plan a cross-country she said I could have it for 3 hours, no problem. Looking at my map I thought I would utilize the extra time and wing it to Charlotte which is a bit further south than both Seebring and Venice. It wouldn’t be too hard to do that as Charlotte (Or Punta Gorda) has a VOR. This meant, as soon as I was within approximately 30-50 miles I could fly in on a radial; i.e. instruments navigation. The weather was fine, cloud cover a little low at about 3,500-4,000 feet. Forecast was Thunderstorms and lowering cloud base but not until much later in the afternoon. Off I went. In the air, course straight for Charlotte. Approximately 45 miles outside Charlotte I picked up the VOR signal and laid the course to fly directly in on the 205 radial. I had originally planned to fly at 3,500 ft but the cloud cover was now coming down to around 3,000 so that wasn’t possible. A couple of times I caught just a wisp of cloud and had to descend to stay clear. 20 miles outside Charlotte I tuned into their frequency and after 1-2 minutes heard: “To all airmen, this is a reminder that Charlotte is still closed”. Tsk tsk. Who was a bad boy not looking to see if there were any NOTAMs before taking to the air? Ah well. I turned the plane around and flew north and thought I would bid good riddance to Arcadia that had caused me so much trouble on my first cross-country. I found the radial from Charlotte that would take me straight to Arcadia and after 15 minutes, sure enough; there it was right below me. I thought about landing but there’s really nothing to do or see so I just ventured to my next stop, Lake Wales. Hmmm. Clouds were coming down and I was now having a hard time flying at 2,000ft having to fly more often at 1,500. Still just fine within my conservative MSA (Minimum Safe Altitude) but not exactly planned and I was happy Lake Wales was about 10 minutes away from Winter Haven. I could get to Winter Haven without getting into Bartow airspace. Normally, I would just stay above 2,600ft (which is as high as Bartow airspace go) but my cloud ceiling was now no higher than 2,000 and it had gone from FEW/SCATTERED to BROKEN. No problem, there was Winter Haven and I landed. Took the airplane back to base, had my logbook signed off for all the hours and went back to my apartment to do the final packing. A couple of hours later I was on the way to the airport and a couple of hours after that (at 17:30) Gerry, my instructor, took the picture above of runway 04-22 (The time is European Central time).

Winterhaven Thunder

Had I gone to Charlotte for a full stop landing, had lunch and then headed back I would probably not have been able to land at Winter Haven in time to catch my flight home to the UK.

At Orlando airport, I was searched at the gate and spent 20 minutes explaining why I was carrying a pilot’s head-set in my carry-on (Because it had active noise cancellation which works very nicely on a jumbo jet, thank you), why I had so many batteries in my bag and why I had a pilot’s nite-lite as well. I can see their problem, of course, and patiently explained the reasons and they were happy with the answers and with the contents (or lack of it) of my shoes which also had to go off and be subjected to detailed examination.

Back in the UK Monday and I thought I’d move while everything was still fresh and I went to Fairoaks to have my checkride. A check-ride for a flying club is required (by insurance) in order for them to rent you their airplanes. It can be anything from a couple of quick circuits to something near a fully-fledged exam. In my case it was a little in between. We did a couple of take offs and landings and she then took quite some time to explain the rather complicated joining instructions at Fairoaks. Fairoaks is very close to Heathrow controlled airspace and is inside the actual zone so it’s extremely important to have the right altitude at the right place at the right time. My radio work with Farnborough radar was enough to get me a reprimand from the controller so that’s an area I need to work on. I have obviously got too used to the ease of things in the US. The Fairoaks instructor did, however, compliment me on my circuits, particularly my approaches and my landings and duly signed me of for hiring the club’s aircrafts. My glide in (with power shut off) from the turn into base was the best I’ve ever done. I have come a long way…

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