Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fly Girl in Training: Landing on a grass strip

The grass strip runway. It appeared as little more than a plowed dry field
because it was little more than a plowed dry field.
"That one?"

"No, that brown one."

"Are you sure?" I asked, scanning what looked like an inhospitable stretch of farmland.

I'm surprised my flight instructor didn't scoff a little as he replied, "I'm sure."

I tried to hold in my skepticism as we approached the "runway," what appeared as little more than a plowed, dry field.

But approach we did--just like we had at a nearby airport, practicing short field and soft field take-offs and landings. ("Short field" meaning if you need to take off or land in a shorter-than-usual amount of runway such as when clearing obstacles like trees.)

Loved landing on a grass strip, despite the bumps. 
Our final approach came down over a copse of shaggy oaks, a bit slower than normal. As we set down, I heeded the direction to keep the yoke pulled all the way to my gut--the best to prevent the nose wheel from digging in or the prop to strike the uneven ground.

And then we bounced and rattled our way to the end of the strip. Although I knew not to expect a smooth ride, I didn't think the grass strip would be quite that bumpy. I jokingly asked my instructor, Stan, to look out and check the tires because I was certain we were rattling apart.

Little did I know how prophetic those words soon would be!

As we approached the end of the private runway--right up to someone's Victorian-esque house with six people waving from the balcony, by the way--I chuckled to see hay bales and the trappings of farm life. Such a strange and cool flying experience!

Wheel pants problems! The metal piece is a mudscraper that cracked over
time (the Cessna is 56 years old, you know) and worked loose during
our bumpy grass strip landing.
We soon took off again and headed to another tiny local airport--Franklin Field--to continue practicing and for me to gain my high performance endorsement in the Cessna 182. In fact, after a few good trips around the pattern, Stan said he was going to hop out and I could continue on my own, soloing the 182 for the first time! Luckily, though, he did look down first.

As a result of the grass strip bumpiness, the wheel fairing mudscraper worked itself loose and punched through the wheel pant. (Now if that isn't one of the weirdest sentences I've ever written...) To see metal that close to the tire and to know I'd had my first airplane "oops," set my nerves on edge. Not understanding the implications, I wondered if we might be stuck for awhile.

Luckily, Stan found some tools and got the metal piece removed. Even better, there was no real damage to the tire and my pants problem ended up mostly a cosmetic issue. So Stan told me to continue on with my solo. I wanted to protest--we'd just had an airplane "issue"! I'm nervous, dammit!--but I kept my trap shut knowing that I saw with my own eyes that the tire was fine. With a few deep breaths, I flew my three patterns and awhile later, landed triumphantly at my home airport.

What I appreciated most about the grass strip landing--aside from the exhilaration of something so new and different--was experiencing the best case scenario for an off-field landing. Although jarring, the field itself was free of obstacles, divots and hazards. I know now that if I ever have an emergency and have to set down in a field somewhere, to expect a rough ride and to do my best to find a flat, rock-free, cow-free, tree-free space. (Of course, mom, I'll do my best never to have an off-field landing, I swear!)

Reactions? Questions? Leave a comment below or email bluestmuse(at)gmail.com.

Up next: My first completely independent flight (solo, all by my lonesome!!).

xoxo,
shawna

Other learning to fly posts:



1 comment:

  1. Losing a roof panel on a 737 is an airplane problem. When compared to that, this wasn't a bad issue to have.

    All of my soft field training was simulated, the FBO didn't allow their planes to operate on anything other than paved runways.

    You are lucky to be able to do the real thing.

    Good luck and congrats on your progress.

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