Today’s flight begins just after 8 am. CFI Dakota Zigrang is in the right seat covering for George, who has a scheduling conflict. I preflight our plane, N733CP, and get a quick lesson from Dakota in visually checking fuel levels in each wing tank; this requires a remarkably ungraceful and awkward climb up on top of the wing, where I imagine my presence as being wildly comical to anyone who happens to be watching from afar, akin to a shaved guerilla balancing on a beach ball.
Dakota designates me as pilot-in-command and leaves to me the decision whether to fly with a well-worn right tire. Per the FAA Handbook, the tire is still airworthy until its steel radial strips are visible and exposed. I tell Dakota that I’m comfortable flying with the worn tire, and we resume our preflight. I’m on the radios, obtaining Ground/Clearance, squawk code, taxi instructions, and departure headings. My radio communications are still choppy, but I’m making great strides compared to several weeks ago.
After a quick taxi we takeoff from KAUS from Runway 17L and experience relatively smooth flying up to 3,000 feet. Our aircraft isn’t configured for IFR flight, so Dakota directs me to slalom through some unexpected cloud cover that crept up on us by surprise. By keeping our aircraft out of the clouds, we remain visible to other aircraft in the area.
We enter the traffic pattern at Lockhart with relative ease despite there being some other traffic in the area. Dakota keeps a light touch on the controls, but trusts me to bring us in on the small airfield. Clean, precise landings depend on the proper sequence of events: Enter the approach downwind, throttle back to about 1700 RPM to bleed-off speed, dropping flaps by 10-degree increments until established on final, and keeping the nose positioned slightly downward while making base leg and turn-to-final to avoid stalls.
Dakota helps me understand the need to visually focus on the runway numbers, eventually setting the aircraft down directly on top of the paint. After flaring, touching down, and applying brakes, I experience some difficulty remembering to maintain firm back pressure on the controls to prevent stress (and buffeting) on the nose wheel’s suspension during our landing roll.
After clearing the runway, we “clean up” the airplane’s configuration by adjusting mixture to two fingers, putting our flaps up and turning off our landing lights. We taxi, takeoff and go several more times before making a smooth flight back to KAUS. We enter the pattern for 17L, and are cleared for a number two landing behind Continental commuter jet, requiring us to keep a safe distance in order to avoid its wake turbulence.