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My hands were a mess. They were absolutely covered in grease—but it was clean grease! I was repacking the main-wheel bearings for our club's Bonanza. It was the first day of our annual inspection and we had a good turnout, with about a dozen members in the hangar working under the supervision of our club's mechanic and the airplane's crew chief.

Before getting greasy, I'd cleaned the parts of the hub assembly and laid them out on a clean rag in the order they came apart—very important for remembering how to put them back together! The bearing races were clean and ready to accept the bearings. Now I just needed to scrape the excess grease off the bearing in my hand, which was proving, uh, difficult. Hal the crew chief noticed my predicament and couldn't help but laugh. "I think you overdid it," he said. "Here, put the bearing down on this rag and go clean up."

Aircraft maintenance involves a lot of tasks like this that aren't exactly rocket science but still require a certain knowledge or knack, like how to remove the oil filter without dousing the engine with oil, how to reach the bottom spark plug on cylinder number 6—or how much grease a bearing really needs.

And then there are the truly glamorous tasks. "How's it going down there?" Hal asked Tim, the newest member, who was on his back on a creeper cleaning the belly of the airplane. The new folks always get the best assignments! Actually, degreasing the belly is a rite of passage all members go through. It's really not a hazing ritual—it just makes sense to start at the bottom (literally) and work your way up as you learn about the airplane. Tim's arms were tired, but he gave a weak smile as he scrubbed away.

Having finally mastered the art of meting out grease, I finished the bearing job and was ready for a new task, which involved… more grease! "The gun's on the shelf over there," said Hal. "All the zerk fittings need lubricating. See if Wolf can help you. It's a lot easier with two people." So, for the next hour, Wolf and I scrambled around under the airplane finding all the zerk fittings using a shop-manual diagram (and trying not to kick Tim). One of us would attach the nozzle to a fitting while the other pumped the grease gun. We'd alternate as needed (he has longer arms; I have smaller hands). Reaching those fittings can require some elaborate gymnastics!

Over the years, I've done many of the preventive maintenance tasks allowed by FAR Part 43 Appendix A(c). I've replaced tires, inner tubes, and ELT batteries. I've serviced landing-gear struts and cleaned and gapped spark plugs. I've removed and replaced spar covers for a biennial spar inspection required by airworthiness directive. I've even assisted our mechanic in hanging a freshly overhauled engine on its mount.

The annual inspections are hard work, but they're fun and I always learn something new about the airplanes. I've been reflecting on these lessons as I write Chapter 2 of my book (here's a draft excerpt). The inspections are also a great opportunity to get to know other members and do some "hangar flying," swapping tales of past adventures and hopes for the future. We have some very seasoned pilots in our club, many of them ex-military guys with thousands of hours of experience. I've had quite an education listening to their stories about hellish cross-winds in the Aleutians, encounters with severe icing, and lessons of all kinds learned over the years from decisions both good and bad.

That first day of the annual was a long one, but we got a lot done as usual. At home that night I reflected on the day's accomplishments over a well-earned beer. As I raised the glass to my lips I was rewarded with the sweet aroma of hops and malted barley—and grease!

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"Let's make this one a soft-field," I said to my buddy Tim as I pulled the Cessna's yoke back to the stop and smoothly advanced the throttle. Nosewheel's off. Start feeding the yoke forward—a little too much, back a bit—good. Mains are off. Don't get too high—accelerate in ground effect. There's best-rate-of-climb speed. Start climbing away. Our session in the pattern was going well. "I had a little nose bobble there at the beginning—a little graceless, but not too bad. I give it a 7," I said to Tim as we leveled on downwind and started setting up for landing.

Tim often accompanies me when I'm flying patterns. He's always wanted to be a pilot. When I earn my CFI certificate, he'll probably be my first student. What's stopped him so far? Mainly the cost, something most of us can sympathize with, especially in the current economy. I've been lucky. While I've had to make some concessions to fiscal realities, I'm still flying—just less than I used to. Sometimes several months go by when the only flying I do is in the pattern at my home airport.

Fortunately, I love pattern work. I have more landings than hours in my logbooks. I can practice a little bit of everything in the pattern: climbs, level flight, descents, configuration changes, ground-reference maneuvers, and all kinds of takeoffs and landings: normal, short-field, soft-field, crosswind, power-on, power-off, rough-air, smooth-air. Patterns are great for maintaining proficiency and confidence.

And they're cheap. I'm a member of the Seagull Flying Club in San Jose, California. There are 20 of us and we own two airplanes, a 1973 A36 Bonanza and a 1976 Cessna 172. We keep our costs low by doing a lot of our own maintenance and we use "Gull bucks" (a 1/20 share of costs) to pay for what we can't do in-house. It's a great way to keep flying. This is one of the topics I've been examining as I write Chapter 1 of my book: finding ways to fly that don't break the bank (here's a draft excerpt).

Climbing out from a normal takeoff, I glanced at the one empty field anywhere nearby, just on the other side of the freeway. That's where I'd go if I lost the engine here. "Let's do this landing power-off," I said as we turned downwind. Chop the throttle abeam the numbers and turn base early. Judging from the crab angle there's a little more wind than expected—hold off on the flaps for now. Blip the throttle occasionally to make sure there's power if we need it. Turn final—now add the flaps. Cool—just enough crosswind to play with. Flare it out over the threshold and touch down just past the numbers. "Perfect," Tim said as we rolled out. I smiled and said, "A little too perfect. I'd rather have a little more altitude and slip it if I need to. Should've turned base sooner. Still, it was a solid 8." I was having a blast. What do I like best about pattern work? It's flying! It might be flying in circles within half a mile of home, but it's still flying and it's still fun.

It was dusk when when we did our last takeoff for the night. The enormous silhouette of Moffett Field's Hangar One loomed ahead, just a few miles away. The city lights were coming up now that the sun was down. The late-afternoon winds had abated, so the air was smooth. The surrounding hills were a muted gold against the deepening blue of the sky. "I've said it before and I'll say it again—this is awesome!" said Tim as we cruised downwind, setting up for our last landing. I chuckled and said, "Amen, brother—let's hope we never forget it!"

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Bang! Bang!… Bang! Rumble rumble skid lurch thump. Shaking, I opened the glider's canopy and turned to look at the small crowd gathered on the porch outside the FBO. Breaking the awkward silence, Rhett the tow pilot said, "Wow, Kennan, that was really something!"

Yes, it was. The most spectacularly bad landing I'd ever made. Well, three of them, if you count the porpoising. I was a student pilot returning from a solo glider flight on a bumpy afternoon in Northern California's wine country. Terrified of a turbulence-induced stall in the traffic pattern, I kept pushing the stick forward for more airspeed. I was doing about 80 knots when I attempted to "land" by forcing the glider onto the ground. The usual touchdown speed for that glider was more like 40 knots. The result: what pilots euphemistically call an "arrival."

That event triggered my first but certainly not last crisis of confidence in my abilities in the cockpit, but like so many other pilots, I loved flying enough to keep coming back. I learned about turbulence. I learned airspeed control. I learned to listen to what an aircraft was telling me. I earned my private pilot certificate in gliders and then went on to earn a single-engine-land airplane rating, an instrument rating, and an advanced ground instructor certificate. Now I'm working on my commercial and plan to become a CFI so I can share my love of flying with the next generation of pilots.

I know my students will experience the same kinds of ups and downs in their flying careers that I've had in mine. All pilots do. Whether you fly commercially or just putter around your home airfield on weekends, I'm sure you've had days when you wondered whether you really had what it takes to fly safely and well. Other days you were at the top of your game and it all seemed easy. It's the same with any challenging endeavor, and that's one of the things I enjoy most about flying. It continues to challenge me as long as I keep doing it.

However exhilarating the ups may be, though, the downs are sometimes bad enough to stop pilots from flying altogether. I've heard so many stories about people who used to love to fly but gave it up after a bad experience. The reason for their decision? A crisis of confidence that went unaddressed. Even when such an experience doesn't stop us from flying, it can sow the seeds of doubt and anxiety that take a lot of the fun out of flying and discourage us from challenging ourselves and growing as pilots. Ultimately, this lack of confidence is dangerous because it undermines our decision making and makes us susceptible to passivity and resignation.

Webster's Online Dictionary defines confidence as the "faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way"—in short, that we'll do the right thing. While we need this faith to keep us flying, it's not enough to keep us safe. Even more dangerous than a lack of confidence is overconfidence. The NTSB accident database is filled with stories about pilots whose unwarranted confidence led them to bad decisions, such as pressing on into deteriorating weather, ignoring signs of mechanical trouble, or attempting maneuvers that exceeded their skills or their aircraft's capabilities. What we need, then, is a true confidence: a well-founded faith that we'll do the right thing in the cockpit.

My name's Kennan Rossi and I've started this blog as a forum for dialog about the experiences that give us pilots the true confidence we need to keep flying — safely. I want to share the experiences that have both challenged and built my confidence in the cockpit over the years, and I want to hear the stories of others, providing a place to share and discuss them.

Over the past few months, I've been writing a book I'm calling The Confident Pilot, and I'll be posting draft excerpts here and reporting on my progress as the book takes shape. For myself I'm hoping that income from book sales will allow me to fly more than I currently can, but I know that will happen only if the book offers practical ideas of lasting value to the aviation community that has helped make it possible. I believe the best way to do that is to involve the community in the creation of the book by soliciting ideas, stories, and feedback. My dream is that pilots will flock to this site to buy, read, enjoy, and discuss the book, and contribute their experiences to future volumes that will benefit us all.

We pilots are incredibly lucky to belong to a close-knit and supportive community. From the cutting of shirttails after first solo to the first flight with a passenger as pilot in command to pilgrimages to EAA Airventure, aviation is full of rituals and customs that celebrate and elevate the practical process of flying an aircraft to an exciting shared adventure. One of my favorite aviation customs is "hangar flying," the swapping of flying tales (some taller than others) that capture the fun, mystery, and magic of flight in a way that rings true for people who love to fly.

May this site serve as just such a hangar. So come on in! We're just getting started!

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