Saturday, October 11, 2008

Gusty crosswind

There was no school Friday, so my kids and I lazed around the house a little, watching the news. They were fascinated by the fluctuations in the stock markets, even if they did not fully understand. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was way down, crept up into the positive range, and then fell. My son, hearing the cheer when the Dow went positive, asked if I was watching a ball game.

I had extra time because one of my students had cancelled. He was heading out, by car, for a long-anticipated hunting trip, and he wanted to get on the road early because of the weather coming in. In retrospect, he did the right thing; the intermountain west got a lot of snow this morning, right when he would have been leaving. "By the way," he added, "I've lost enough in the stock market to buy my own 172." At least he was smiling.

But I had a second student, and eventually headed out to the airport to fly with him. He is close to solo, but I have found that people at his stage do a little better in the pattern if they go out and do some other flying first. This might be something simple like going to a nearby airport, or something more involved like a review of stalls and slow flight. Both give me opportunities to simulate an engine failure...

But Friday's ceiling was too low for any of the high maneuvers, and there did not seem to be enough wind for the low maneuvers, so I suggested that we stay in the pattern. I have a method for this, as well: student does two landings, I do one. This gives the student a chance to mull over any difficulties and shake them off, and gives me a chance to emphasize some aspect of the process. And I get to actually fly a little, too...

What little wind we had was gusty, and the wind sock was swinging back and forth like the stock market. We had crosswinds from the right, then from the left, then none. During one of my patterns he asked which way I was correcting, and I honestly replied that I did not know. I wonder if Ben Bernanke understands how I felt?

The pattern was quiet. One airplane arrived from the west, and I praised Dan for understanding the radio calls and watching for traffic, even while flying the pattern. This is a good sign.

We had a good session, and landed to leave the airplane for the next student. The wind calmed as we walked across the ramp. Inside, there was little of the buzz that one might expect on a nice day. Why was it so quiet? Was this the calm before the storm, and if so, which storm?

One of the keys to aviation is risk management. We control the variables within our control, but we train to handle those that are outside of our control. Adding flaps in a 172 requires nose-down trim. In King Airs and Mooneys, running the electric trim while the flaps are in motion just does the trick. Nice! We check the forecasts, and anticipate times when the weather may be more than we can handle. But there are the things we can't control, weather being one, but the economy being another.

I imagine that if the economy deteriorates too far, then people will fly less. This is natural: it takes money to fly, and if there is none then there will be no flying. But I hope that somehow people can still touch the joy of flying, even if they have to rent a smaller airplane, or share their flights with a friend. At a minimum, stay night and instrument current, because you want to be ready when opportunity arrives. Seek out the gusty crosswind, and stay sharp.

Seek out the gusty crosswind; I've done that before (see one of my first posts). That's what I want in the air; it is not what I want from the economy.

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