Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kinesthetic Memory

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
11 Jan 2009 N21481 5G0 (Le Roy, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - 5G0 1.4 682.1

20°F.  Another cold winter day.  Black ice on the ramp.  Kent and I carefully pulled Warrior 481 out of the hangar while Ray and Dan continued to clear snow from the airport's movement areas.  As we buckled into our seats, the Warrior provided welcome shelter from the biting cold.  Mixture rich...throttle cracked...master switch on...fuel boost pump on.  The sound of the boost pump diminished as fuel pressure rose into the normal operating range.  I primed the engine four times and engaged the starter.  One blade...two blades...three blades...the engine caught and the propeller vanished in a blur of motion.

"Wow, that was easy," Kent remarked.  Indeed.  It's amazing how an old sleeping bag and a light bulb can make for such an effective pre-heating system (at least, until incandescent light bulbs are completely replaced by compact fluorescents that waste far less energy as heat).

The Three Rivers Airport photographer from N9327U while Kent was flying, 10 Dec 2002

Minutes later, airborne, I was reminded of a winter six years ago.  Kent and I both earned our private pilot certificates in the fall of 2002.  That winter, we sometimes rented the Cessna 150 that had been our trainer and shared the flying in airspace surrounding Kalamazoo, MI.  While he flew, I used to take pictures out the milky windows of the well-worn trainer.  For me, those days occurred six years, three cameras, and 600 logbook hours ago.  Whereas I kept flying, Kent did not.  To the best of my knowledge, Kent's last flight as pilot-in-command was between Three Rivers, MI and South Haven, MI  in August of 2004.

Southbound at 3000 feet, I throttled back to 65% power, leaned the engine, and fine-tuned the trim.  "She's all yours," I said.  Kent took the controls and confirmed that he had positive control of the airplane.  For my part, I settled back to watch.  I have let many passengers over the years try their hand at guiding my little blue and white ship through the sky, but I am always amazed by the skill level retained by lapsed pilots.

With Kent at the controls, we flew south to Letchworth and circled Middle Falls.  I split my attention between the sights below, scanning for traffic, and checking the instruments.  As we banked around the falls, the centered inclinometer ball proclaimed well-coordinated flight.  I have seen this with other lapsed pilots that have taken the Warrior's controls.  While the unused "book learning" part of aviation gets fuzzy with the passage of time, kinesthetic memory has amazing persistence.  Practiced hands and feet always seem to remember exactly what to do.  Kent's feet obviously knew what the rudder was for and how to use it.

With the sightseeing complete, I suggested Kent try some steep turns.  We put some distance between ourselves and Letchworth, then Kent crisply rolled the Warrior into a 45° bank.

Here's Kent flying a steep turn to the right, as evidenced by all that ground visible out the window.  Kent made several more  turns with aplomb, as though the intervening years since his last maneuver had never elapsed.  As we wheeled through the sky, first to the left, then to the right, the ball remained centered and my stomach unperturbed.  Seriously, kinesthetic memory is an amazing thing.

With the sun beginning to set, we turned back to Le Roy, content that the mission was accomplished: I received an aeronautical "fix", the Warrior spent over an hour circulating the balm of hot oil through its powerplant, and Kent was able to tap his dormant pilot skills.

It was a good day.

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