Thats why you have a pilots license

I'm writing this a week after the fact because various events in real life have taken precedence over writing a blog, and I will not relate them to you for fear of boring you to death.

Last Friday, Susan and I were driving out of the University car park on our way home when she looks up and the sky and says to me, "why don't we fly out to Raglan for dinner"? I considered this for a second and said that would be a great idea.

Funnily enough the Aero Club is closer to work than it is to where our house is so by 5.10pm we were standing on the deck at the clubroom looking at the parked aircraft. Since it was Raglan I wanted to take a 172, and JGP was available so I asked for it.

A quick preflight later we were taxiing out to do the runup with just over 3 hours fuel on board. We were cleared to take off from the tarmac runway which Susan commented she had never taken off from before. I got us airborne and was surprised at the lack of turbulence. There was a little shaking but nothing like what I was expecting.

About 12 minutes later I was joining overhead Raglan and trying to spot the windsocks. I had to circle a couple of times because the windsocks were definitely not in agreement and I had to think about how I was going to land and which direction was the right one. I eventually chose 23 and reported I was joining non traffic side for 23. What I didn't realise at the time was that the wind was in actual fact blowing across the runway, and the location of the airstrip was such that the surrounding terrain made the wind funnel past it rather than blow steadily.

My first attempt at a landing was a shocker because I was getting plenty of lift during the final approach and ended up very high. I went around and the second time I was ready for it and managed a slightly high approach profile but it was manageable.

Strangely enough the aircraft was not behaving like it would in a normal crosswind approach, so I suspect there might have been a vertical sheerzone somewhere. We landed long, and Susan was worried we might run through the fence, but I had kept us airborne as long as possible to bleed off airspeed and we landed sufficiently slowly that even had the brakes failed we probably would not have hit the fence very hard if at all.

I taxied us back to the parking spot and shutdown. After getting out I studied the nearest windsock closely for several seconds and it was certainly doing some strange things. The apparent breeze where I was standing was blowing across the runway at about 70-80 degrees.

We had a lovely dinner at a local restaurant, and during the walk back I was considering the best method to tackle the takeoff and departure. We could go in either direction, but I chose to continue in the direction we had landed. My plan was to take off on an oblique angle as Raglan is 65m wide so we would get as much of a head wind as possible, climb to a safe height and make an early turn into wind to take advantage of the extra lift. I have written before about JGPs climbing ability, and I knew that it was more than capable of performing as required. My only question marks were about possible sheer and its affect on JGPs ability to climb. My calculated gamble was that once into wind JGP would easily outclimb the low hills to the south of the airport.

As it happened we got airborne fairly early in the takeoff roll (gotta love JGP), so once I got to 300 feet AGL I began a shallow left turn to keep away from the houses and we climbed away as planned, with no drama at all.

The flight back to Hamilton was even smoother than the flight to Raglan, and once I got to cruising altitude I trimmed up JGP and asked Susan if she wanted to put her hands on the controls and feel the plane for a moment or two. She chickened out a couple of times but dug up enough courage to follow my movements for a moment or two. The interesting observation I made was that when she closed her fingers around the control column, the clenching motion moved the elevators about 1 cm rearwards causing a slow pitch up of the nose. She immediately released the controls and I corrected our climb. She admitted after she had calmed down that she wasn't expecting such sensitive controls, and that comment transported me back to my first ever lesson with the club. We landed without incident and taxied back to the club where I shut down, tied down and covered JGP for the night.

For a relatively short flight, and one that I have done quite a few times in my flying history, it threw up a number of challenges that I had to solve to my satisfaction before I was confident we would be able to fly out. In reality, it was a no brainer (yes really it was - call me overanxious if you like) but I hope you get an idea about some of the multitude of considerations pilots must weigh up before choosing to fly.