Today was one of the best days I have had here so far. We had breakfast with Jackie & Co. at St. Pete’s and went to the airport. It is sort of a buzz when you tell the concierge you need a taxi for Albert Whitted airport and when he asks if you are leaving in your own aircraft, you can reply in the affirmative. We pre-checked the aircraft and were soon on our way. Before leaving for Winter Haven, we flew to the west side of the peninsula to do two fly-bys along the beach in the honour of Jackie & Co. We flew at an altitude of about 1,000ft and rocked our wings but when I called them later that day, they still claimed not to be sure it was us. I took a few pictures of the beach as we flew by; it will be interesting how that turns out. Back on track, I flew most of the trip back. We had worse weather than the day before and my friendly meteorologist had sounded a little concerned about us flying at all, but with scattered clouds at 3,000-3,500ft we were OK flying at 2,500 except flying easterly we should be 3,500 and there was a lot of turbulence under the clouds. Back home it was into the patterns for landings. ½ hour with Gerry before he was comfortable. I was in the groove and then more than 1 hour for myself. I was beginning to get it, and I was feeling much more comfortable. That 1 hour was a real confidence builder. With wind varying, I cross wind corrected and as my patterns are still not sharp enough, I some time came in final a little overshot. Most time I came in undershot and most time a little high, but still, I always ended up not far off the threshold and if not bang on the middle then certainly with more than just a wingtip over the middle. I felt my flaring changing for the better too. After the session, I was drenched. This was hard albeit very rewarding work. I went to the flat, showered, changed, and returned to do more. This time Gerry just sat in for one circuit before I was off on my own. The first landing was the best I have done yet. When there was no comment on the radio, I knew Gerry had not seen it; no way could he have seen that landing and not commented. On the numbers, i.e. right after the threshold and straight on the middle, and really smooth. I was fine with him not having seen it. It demonstrated to me he was now so confident, that all though he was on the radio he did not have to watch me all the time. After ½ hour the sun was getting quite low and straight in my eyes on final approach (and that is not just an excuse) and I thought I would finish on a high. The last landing of the day was only matched by the first of that session.
There is an instrument in an aircraft called a transponder. It transmits a 4-digit identification code so Radar Operators can associate the aircraft ID with the bleep on their screen. It is octal, so there are 4,096 combinations and you are assigned a code whenever you contact a radar. Modern transponders (and most are) have Mode “C” capabilities, which means they also transmit the altitude. There are a couple of special codes: 7700, for example, for an aircraft in distress (Mayday). 7600 if you lose your radio and 7500 if you are hi-jacked. A captain from a nearby army base was returning home to Arkansas in a borrowed light aircraft straight off duty. Still wearing his uniform, he was looking forward to spending a weekend with his family. He entered Orlando controlled airspace and was asked to “squawk your altitude”. This means setting the transponder to mode “C” or “Alt”. However, the guy flying at 7,500 feet sets the transponder to this. The Radar controller obviously does a double take and to make sure, before initiating a major alert, asks the pilot “Is there a gun on board?”. The captain, slightly puzzled still looks down on his right hip where indeed his service revolver resides, and answers “Affirm”. Ooops. Major hi-jacking alert. One red-faced captain on the ground in Arkansas suddenly finds out why he got so easy and fast he clearances through every controlled airspace or zone he attempted to enter.
Tomorrow, yet more landings, but now I will have to re-focus on my patterns. Ensuring they are as constant as possible, turning at the maximum (same) angle at the same point every time and trying to get my turn in on final to be on the right track from the beginning. As soon as I have finished the solo patterns, we move on to cross-country, night and instrument flying. I have 4 hours blocked out in tomorrow’s schedule for pattern flying.