Ode to 168 Landings

By Beth E. Stanton, EAA 1076326

“Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

-Winston Churchill

I almost quit halfway through flight training. Apparently, I did not have the talent for flying. About a year prior to this dilemma, I woke up with the bright idea that it would be cool to be a pilot. You have to understand, I had never even been in a small airplane before. This made absolutely no sense, yet the impulse was startling in its ferocity. 

Learning to fly turned out to be way more than I had bargained for. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I knew nothing about airplanes and how they worked. Every topic from aerodynamics to weather to navigation was a giant mystery to be solved. Now I was stranded upon the landing plateau. I despaired of ever flying a stable traffic pattern and landing the plane so that you could use it again. When I compared my hours of flight to my number of landings, I was landing an average of every 29 minutes. And I still wasn’t getting it. 

One evening, I declared to my boyfriend that this was too hard and I should just hang it up. He looked at me squarely and said, “Are you going to give up now when you are this far in?”

“No,” I said with a sigh in an annoyed voice.

“Look,” he said, “when I was in graduate school, it wasn’t the most talented students who succeeded, but the most persistent.”

Huh.

Of course, I had it all set in my mind: solo at 20 hours, checkride at 40 hours. Ha! Here I was in my mid-30 hours of training fumbling around the pattern like a drunken sailor on shore leave. In frustration, I had become focused upon all my mistakes. I made a revolutionary choice. I decided to get off my own back, release the self-imposed arbitrary deadlines, and enjoy the process.

This was a pivotal turning point. It turned a grind back into an adventure. It felt so much better and was way more fun. I knew without a doubt that with enough practice and avgas, I would eventually get it. I was learning to fly! How awesome was that? I wrote this poem to celebrate:

Ode to 168 Landings -February 24, 2011

Holes burned in the pattern while practicing landings,

Learning this skill set is proving demanding. 

Too high, too low, too fast, too slow. 

Flaring late, flaring early, base to final is squirrelly.

Saint Ralph in the right seat pulls tricks from his bag

Offering tips as I zig and I zag. 

Here’s hoping that one day I’ll get it just right, 

Then look to the sky, see my spirit take flight.  

Tailwheel training was a buffoonery-rich endeavor that still has my landings-to-total hours ratio hilariously high. In the process of getting this endorsement I flew nine different airplanes with seven instructors. It was a ton of fun. I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. 

Flying competition aerobaticsfor the last seven years has given me many opportunities to put my enjoy the process philosophy into practice while learning maneuvers like hammerheads, snap rolls, inverted spins, rolling turns — the list goes on. I guess this is going to just keep happening every time the difficulty level gets bumped up.

It took exactly a year, a month, a week, a day, and 91.4 hours in my logbook to get my private pilot certificate — the proudest accomplishment of my life. I decided that if I could learn to fly, I could do anything. I have high hopes that one day I can gracefully land a Pitts.

-This story is an updated version that was previously published in Sport Aerobatics magazine. Beth is now a columnist and regular contributor to EAA Sport Aviation magazine.

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