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Sweet!

"This is why we live in California," I said to myself with a smile. As I stepped out of the car at the airport early on a recent Sunday afternoon, it was shirtsleeve weather. The sky was almost completely clear and winds were light. Not bad for December! A combination of work, home repair, and weather had kept me away from the airport for weeks. I had set a goal of completing my Commercial and CFI certificates this year, but at this point Spring of next year was looking more likely. (More about that next time.) The only thing for it was to keep plugging away. It was the perfect day to get back in the saddle and fly some patterns.

I started in my comfort zone with a normal takeoff and landing, which went quite well, followed by short-field and soft-field techniques. With the Arrow's sensitive stabilator it took a couple of tries to get a smooth soft-field liftoff, but it came together quickly. So far, so good!

The "warmup" complete, I was ready to tackle the maneuver I had yet to perform successfully: the 180-degree power-off approach and precision landing. On previous attempts, I'd either come up short and had to add power (usually), or ended up high and had to go around.

Abeam the numbers, I lowered the gear and pulled the throttle to idle. With the landing threshold about 25 degrees behind my wing, I started my base turn. Looking good so far! "10 degrees of flaps," I called out, hauling the flap handle up to the first notch. A few seconds later, it was clear that was a mistake, as my landing spot started sliding upwards across the windscreen as I turned final. I aborted the maneuver, added power, and made a normal landing.

"OK, turn base sooner," I thought. "Let's try this again." A second attempt with a closer base turn was better, but I still had to add power to make the runway. "OK, hold off on the flaps!" I decided as I took off for one more try. This time I began my base turn almost immediately after chopping the power and left the flaps alone. Turning final, I saw I was actually a bit high. "Now, some flaps," I thought as I pulled on 10 degrees, 25 degrees, and finally full flaps as I held my approach speed over the fence and across the threshold to a picture-perfect touchdown right where I was aiming.

"Woo-hoo!" I hollered aloud as the nose wheel touched down. That was sweet! The technique that worked was to hold best-glide speed, turn base almost immediately, leave flaps up until turning final, and then use flaps to adjust glideslope. As satisfying as it was to figure that out, it was even better to experience it. It didn't mean I'm a great pilot. It didn't mean I'll always fly the maneuver perfectly. It didn't have to mean anything. It was just one of those rare, sweet experiences that make all the hard work and expense of flying worthwhile.

After tying down the airplane and finishing the paperwork I plopped down in the car with a satisfied sigh and said it aloud to myself:

"And that is why we do that!"

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