Regulars

BITE THE RUST

As we were putting this issue to bed, I finally got to strap an aircraft on and fly for the first time in a while. A combination of COVID-19 lockdowns and bad weather had kept me grounded for the last couple of months. The aircraft was due for its annual, so I arranged to fly over early and while the Horsham Aviation crew sorted out the annual for the day I would work out of the terminal. After all, remote working is nothing new these days. What surprised me is just how rusty you can get in two short months.

The basics stayed with me. The actual flying of the aircraft – the stick and rudder stuff – is a bit like riding a bike for me now. What I found was that cockpit work felt unfamiliar. During the first flight I had to remind myself to continue my instrument checks and radio work. I just had to re-establish the habits and stay ahead of the aircraft. It was a bit of a rude shock after 20 years of flying. It was a short 50-minute hop and it felt like I was no sooner up and organised than I had to start thinking about landing. That landing was not pretty either. Juggling the airspeed, height and approach just seemed harder than I remembered. By the return journey, I was almost back in the groove. I added a touch and go at Lethbridge just to make sure I was sorted and current. This time it was like old times, eyes down the runway and the numbers just right. Even the strong crosswind was no bother. The point is, if I’m that rusty after a couple of months, how are some who have been locked down, for what seems like forever, going to cope?

Every time I have had to go more than a few months without flying I have taken the opportunity to jump in with an instructor or co-pilot. I can’t recommend it enough. Training isn’t just at the start of your aviation journey. It should be ongoing. The aircraft I fly has flown regularly this year, but many haven’t. I was surprised at the laundry list of small but significant things the annual check revealed, including a fuel pump gasket that was weeping. Not something that you’d want getting worse in flight. The fact that the fuel pump sits quite close to the exhaust gives pause for thought. Like pilots, aircraft don’t like sitting around. If your aircraft hasn’t been anywhere for a while, trust me, you want to get it checked out thoroughly before you put it back in the air. Your life might depend on it.