Today I had an amazingly good flight. Now, this means nothing without context, but basically my past several flights have been kind of terrible. I've barely flown in the past three weeks. My approaches haven't improved at all. I started to talk on the radios, but then I backed out of it. Basically, crap.
On Sunday I did one of my worst DME arcs ever, and they were one of the few approaches I thought I had nailed (I previously got a + on one, which is like a gold star for kindergartners). I forget to tune/ID the VORs until way late, I didn't set the courses right, and I flew right through the inbound course. "There it is! ...and there it goes." This was not helped by the fact that Approach took a good solid 20 minutes to get us our clearance, and that was only after my instructor asked them in a very aggravated tone. They were taking VFR flight following requests over our filed IFR flight plan. It was awkward and made for two unhappy pilots.
Things got better when I had the distinct pleasure of landing behind this guy.
It departed out of Paine Field as we were lined up on downwind. I forgot how to say words once I realized it was a Dreamliner. I was so worried about its wake turbulence that I had a really crap landing, but then I got to stop on the runway and wait for that to dissipate and then take off again, and I felt so special. We did a fun transition over Seatac to go back home, and then I had one of the greatest landings I've ever done. Even so, I was not happy with how the important part of the flight had gone, and I let pretty much everyone around me know it.
Last night I took out my kneeboard and my approach plate and drew out where each radio frequency should be set, what the nav instruments should look like as far as set courses, the missed approach, all that good stuff. I didn't really end up using it today - just a quick glance - but it helped so immensely that flying this 15.3 DME arc for a good 90 degrees of a circle or so seemed like it was actually too much time, a problem I never thought I would have.
What changed in those two days?
Well, I emailed my mom-away-from-home, Karlene Petitt.
"I'm thinking the only thing stopping you from your instrument is your distracted mind. Distraction is the number one cause of accidents, so... you need to focus. Emotional and flying don't go together. And if you can't fly with focus then you shouldn't be flying. Can you get over the emotional aspect of what's happening? I know you can. Just park it on a shelf.
Christine, there is only one thing that you have control in your life, and that is your attitude. Your attitude of how you're going to deal with situations that come up in life. Deal with today. Make a choice to be proactive and deal with it and finish your license.
Don't be emotional. You have to stop taking emotion into the plane. You need to learn how to compartmentalize and set it aside. The plane...now, and in the future.... is not someplace to be worrying about Jesse, or finances, or anything else. You need to learn to focus on the task. If you can do that, then fly. If you can't, then you're going to be a danger to yourself. "
A lot of crap has happened in the past few months. My best friend and favorite flight instructor left the school, and until today I haven't really done as well with my new instructor. I've run into financial problems and might just barely be able to finish instrument before I have to find another way to pay for all this fun. School is eating my life again and I'm trying to plan something that will probably change everything I've adapted to for the past two years.
But today, all I heard was Karlene's voice saying "Compartmentalize it. Set it aside. You're flying a plane, so fly the plane. Don't let it fly you."
Best therapy ever.