Saturday, September 13, 2003

Just call me Han

...cause I'm ready to Solo.

I arrived at the flight school office at 6 a.m., the earliest we've ever flown. Even over Manila the weather was great. Smooth air, nice and cool. We flew up to Plaridel and I was ready to do some landings. My instructor, Jay, had already said that I had a goal. Do three flawless landings in a row.
But there was something I didn't expect. The wind was going the opposite way.
You see, runways go both ways. A single airstrip headed toward 170 degrees would be called Runway 17. But in the opposite direction, it heads toward 350 degrees, and would be called Runway 35. The runway direction that goes into the wind is always used, since it's best to take off into the wind. Well, when I was in Plaridel before, the wind was always going north, so I'd use Runway 35. This time it was headed south, so Runway 17 was in use, the tower tells me.
This may not sound like a big deal, but I have a very tenuous grasp of the traffic pattern. I know the directional route, but landmarks are very important. In my mind, it generally goes like this.
1) Take off. 2) Climb to 300 feet 3) Retract flaps 4) Continue climbing, and head east at 500-600 feet toward the big Ralston Purina plant. 5) Continue on the downwind leg until the McDonald's Curly Fries roadside billboard is obscured by the left strut. 6) Turn left toward the billboard. 7) When perpendicular to the runway, turn on final leg to runway. 8) Land.
So everything was backwards. Still, I caught the pattern toward the Purina plant and headed on the base leg. Despite a very short final leg (meaning I was too close to the runway when I turned right to land, which meant I had to lose a lot of altitude and speed, which is not so easy to do at the same time), I landed smoothly. Then I did another.
When I took off for another attempt, the clouds opened up. It rained hard, like it does in the Philippines. Jay took control, did a 180, and put us back down quickly on the runway. Then we hung out at the bustling metropolis that is Plaridel, Bulacan Province, for about an hour.
After buying out about half of the baked goods in the sari-sari store, we took off again. (Sari-Sari is literally, "point-point." It's the Philippine version of a convenience store, a small rusting shack with all kinds of stuff. No English there, it took me forever to explain to the proprietor that I didn't want one package of bread rolls, I wanted all of them. With all of that, plus a drink for me and a drink and pack of cigarettes for Jay, the total was still 130 pesos, about $2.50. It took slightly less time to tell him I didn't want change for 200, he could keep it. Michele and I allay our guilt about the extremely low prices here by tipping high. We've made people dance before. Our driver in Cebu, after we tipped him, hugged me and kissed our children for the high tip.)
Anyway, we did a few more takeoffs and landings and I practiced go-arounds for when you are seconds away from landing and something goes wrong, like someone or something on the runway, or an in-flight problem. Essentially punch the throttle and keep going.
After returning to Manila, we had another bit of excitement. I turned to final approach at Manila Domestic, started pitching down to the runway, and noticed a really big Cebu Pacific DC-9 taxiing right into the exact spot where I was going to be in less than 30 seconds. (No, a DC-9 isn't that big. But anything between your little plane and the runway is huge at 80 mph.) I radioed the tower, saying simply, "Manila Tower, this is RP-C87 on short final Runway 13." Unsaid was, "Hey, you told me I could land there. Why the hell did you put a big speed bump full of jet fuel in my way?"
The tower told me to pull over and wait. (No, not really.) They said, "RP-C87, do right 360 on final." Which means they wanted me to do a little donut right where I was. Whatever, they're the tower. By the end, the DC-9 was out of the way and I put the plane down.
I am now approved for solo flight, which I'll be doing the next time I fly. We will drive to Plaridel and fly there. It's a big deal at the school. They'll pin wings on me and have a little party. The biggest part is dumping water on my head. As another flight school employee told me, "Water from the creek, with, how do you say, urine."
They warned me to bring a change of clothes.

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