Some days just look like they’ll be perfect for flying. I got up this morning to an endless blue sky, light wind and cool (but not frigid) temps. I was feeling a little smug that I had reserved my trusty 172 for the afternoon, and was anxious to do some more short/soft field landing and takeoff practice over at Portland Mulino, a field for which I was just checked out last weekend.
Today was a good example of how different conditions on the surface and even a few thousand feet up can be, however. No sooner had I left Troutdale on my climbout than I started getting knocked around by some rogue wind gusts. I initiated a climb, hoping to get on top of the burbling air below me, but it was not to be. During the short flight to Mulino, I found myself white-knuckling the yoke, trying in vain to anticipate the dips and lifts. I did get a second to pat myself on the back for navigating directly to my destination using pilotage, arriving dead-on over the middle of the field just about when I thought I would, so that’s something I guess.
On my first pass around the pattern at Mulino, I caught a few hair-raising gusts, but managed to set the plane down pretty well on the center line, considering. As I lifted off again, however, I got knocked hard. This was the first time I’ve felt a twinge of fear since I’ve been flying. I mean, these gusts were really bouncing me all over the place. I cooled down pretty quickly once the air smoothed out, however, and managed to get in four landings before calling it quits and high-tailing it back to Troutdale.
This was one of those decision points for a pilot. I had to choose whether to stick with my landings and get some valuable crosswind practice, or cut and run and hope for smoother air another day. I made the choice to choke down my insecurity and get a grip on what was happening, and I’m glad I did. But I also know that had I encountered much more wind activity than I did, I would have just bagged it. That’s the advantage of being a 40-something student, I guess. I am many things at this point in my life, but daredevil is definitely not one of them.