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Straight Arrow?

"Are we on the ground?" I asked my instructor Bill as we careened down the runway. I really couldn't tell, and it certainly wasn't because I greased the landing!

"Yes," he replied.

"Wow, I thought we were ballooning!" I said. Our "arrival" on the runway had been sudden, firm, and far too nose-low, but apparently not too fast. If it had been, we certainly would have ballooned!

"You just don't have the sight picture yet," Bill said. "It'll come."

The experience wasn't really surprising. It was my first attempt at landing a new (to me) airplane, and I was doing it from the right seat!

For the last several years, all my flying has been in my club's Cessna 172 and A36 Bonanza, but now I'm starting my Commercial and CFI training and I've decided to use a Piper Arrow II at a club across town at nearby Reid-Hillview airport. I did my primary airplane training at this club years ago, so it was easy to re-activate my membership. I chose the Arrow because it's specifically designed as a complex trainer (and a complex airplane is required for the Commercial and CFI checkrides). As much as I love our Bonanza, it's not a trainer, and in Bill's opinion, my training would probably take longer if we used it. What's more, our A36 has no toe-brakes for the right seat, and I didn't relish the thought of asking the examiner to stop the airplane during the checkride!

Over the past few weeks I've been studying the Arrow's Information Manual, which pre-dates the modern Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) format. I made computer-based flash cards of the key memory items, including V-speeds and time-critical emergency procedures, and drilled myself on them repeatedly. By the time I got to the airplane, I knew them well. That preparation really helped—but it couldn't help my landing flare! Only practice will do that.

"You're going to like the Arrow," Bill had said. "It handles really well." As we climbed away from the airport on a downwind departure, performing some gentle S-turns to look for traffic, I saw what he meant. The controls are well harmonized and responsive, and the performance is quite respectable considering the "Hershey-bar" wing and the 200 horsepower, four-cylinder engine. This was my first experience with the Piper manual flap handle, and being a strongly kinesthetic and tactile learner, I like it. Not only can you easily see the position of the flaps, you can directly feel their effect! I was less pleased, however, with the position of the trim wheel. Wedging my hand between the seat cushions to roll the wheel isn't the most comfortable operation, and this airplane requires a lot of trimming! I don't know how big-handed pilots do it.

My first approach to land at a nearby non-towered airport held some surprises. In our Bonanza, I'm used to being able to reduce manifold pressure five inches and get an approximately 500 feet-per-minute descent, but the Arrow is surprising slippery for having such a boxy wing. It's clear I'll need to plan my descents more conservatively than usual.

And then, well, there were the landings. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of them!

"Let's just do pattern work next time," Bill suggested. "You need to develop the sight picture for the landing flare. It'll look just the same as the picture when you're rotating for takeoff."

Patterns! I'm looking forward to them. As I've written here before, I'm one of those weirdos who actually enjoys patterns! I'm gonna learn how to land that thing…

When I walked in my front door after the flight, I called out to my wife Janet, "I just love flying—even when I suck!"

She just laughed and welcomed me home.

"I think that glider ride was the best present I ever gave you!" she said, referring to the flight many years ago when I was first bitten by the flying bug. Giving her a big hug, I answered, "Oh, I know it was!"

Thanks again, babes—for everything.

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