Endless Summer by Justin McCoy – Article #1

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In this edition of Sydney Flyer club member Justin McCoy reflects on his strategy of conquering anxiety in the cockpit...and having fun in the process.

A while back I read a fascinating article by Sarah Fritts in the Sydney Flyer, proposing several suggestions for conquering anxiety in the cockpit. I have indeed found over the years that my anxiety levels increase the longer I am away from flying; sometimes, due to a combination of work commitments and unfavourable weather, for 5 or 6 months at a time.

Thankfully, with a culture at Schoies of competitions, night circuits and flyaway events I have generally managed to restore confidence in my competence without too much trouble. This ties in with one of Sarah’s suggestions, which is to fly with an instructor or another pilot. However, solo flying is another matter, potentially presenting itself with a different level of anxiety, or as Sarah puts it, “Let’s face it: even experienced aviators will get the willies flying alone when they have spent their career flying with a crew (like me). Over time that goes away as you gain more experience and stay current.” While I wouldn’t really classify myself as an experienced aviator, this resonated with me. One of her suggestions was to overcome lack of confidence in solo flying by flying four days in a row!

When I started to play guitar back in the 1960s, one of my favourite tunes was the theme from the surfing movie The Endless Summer, by one of my favourite bands of that era, The Ventures. Simple, melodic, and above all easy for a novice guitarist to master. Half a century later I still love this tune. I was never into beach culture, way too skinny. Being muscularly challenged was not a drawback for an aspiring rocker however, and I could successfully perform surf music while staying well clear of the beach.

How is this relevant to flying? Well two situations have recently combined to allow me to put Sarah’s theory into practice. My band has shore leave from P&O cruise ships for five weeks, rather than the usual one or two, and the autumn weather? An Endless Summer! Day after day of CAVOK and variable winds. Ideal for getting back in the groove.

I haven’t managed quite four days solo in a row, but I have logged more hours in a couple of weeks than at times over a year!

Justin: Happy to be back in the groove

The last time I flew was two and a half months ago, in a memorable Schoies event up to Wiseman’s Ferry. On that occasion, I was fortunate to have instructor Bryan in the right seat; but my last solo flight was four months prior to that… clearly six and a half months is pushing it a bit.

On this beautiful May morning I decide, with minimal anxiety, that today is the day. However, I have a nagging feeling that there is a CASA email needing my attention, a reminder that my medical is due soon. Turns out that it expires today! But I’m still current, so I ring the club to book RXW for some solo circuits, then ring the DAME, to make an appointment two days hence.

RXW is a recent addition to the Schoies fleet, a mature-age Warrior with a brand new 180HP engine, fresh paint and interior. Checking the oil, I observe that the engine bay looks like that of a new air-cooled Kombi, if such a gem still existed. I see that she has just returned from a cross country to Moruya, and being nice and warm fires up immediately. A mini Garmin Primary Flight Display (PFD) pops up in place of the Artificial Horizon, most impressive!

With an ATIS crosswind from the south of 10kts I taxi round to the south side and am soon airborne off 29L, a bit of weathercocking on liftoff easily countered on climb out. My first circuit is a bit clunky, but the approach is OK. Then to add to the fun I am unexpectedly told to go around at about 300’ on final. This I manage without any problem, settling into the routine of full power, positive rate of climb, bringing the flaps up a bit at a time, while pondering the reason for the call. There did not seem to be any conflicting traffic…perhaps I missed something?

RXW: Many a good tune left in an old fiddle

Downwind now I am behind a Foxbat, and appear to be gaining on him a bit. I slow down, but on final feel that I may still be a bit close, and mentally prepare for a go-around. Foxbat touches down, takes his time getting airborne and sure enough, I get the call again, this time cleared for an early crosswind. I join downwind, cutting in ahead of Foxbat and feel quite relaxed even though these circuits today are certainly giving me something extra to think about. I am cleared touch-and-go before turning base…all is clear ahead!

On climb out I glance to my right and there is a Cessna Caravan next to me, ascending upwind off 29R. It is a beautiful moment, and we are briefly in formation until he rockets ahead and I turn left crosswind. I now try to concentrate on the mini PFD rather than the steam gauges, to reinforce this slightly unfamiliar method of panel display. This time I call for a full stop, then remember to request 29R to save time taxiing back to Schoies. Tower says will advise on base. I am re-cleared 29R and manage a passable landing, with RXW apparently still serviceable.

Warrior Island is now full, but there are spaces in front of the club, so I taxi over the grass to a parking pad and shut down. Instructor Isaac is preparing another aircraft nearby…he comes over and politely reminds me to always shut down on the taxiway and push the aircraft back onto the pad to avoid possible stone damage to the prop. This advice I paste into my memory bank for future reference.

I log .8, and feel that I am on the way to getting back up to speed as comfortable PIC.

To be continued…

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