Today’s blog post is a little bit of a journey back in time – back to my life a few months ago when I was getting to grips with the art of landing a high-performance tail-dragger, which was no mean feat I can tell you! 

A Pitts Special is an incredible aeroplane, and at no point is she to be underestimated. Treat her right and she’ll let you play with her, treat her badly or arrogantly and you’ll soon learn your place. SKNT and I had been flying together for a while, and I’d been quite happy to just play with her in the upper air, letting my mentor and teacher take control to get us back down, but of course it was essential that sooner or later I’d be able to take her out by myself, and as such I’d obviously have to learn to actually fly and land her…

Landing is an interesting matter. It’s quite well known that Pitts Specials can be a bit of a handful and a challenge to learn to land, and it has certainly been my experience that good landings are more of an art-form than a science. Learning to land was the part I’d really not been looking forward to – my ego was under the misconception that it should be easy, that it shouldn’t be hard to learn, and that I should have been able to pick it up really quickly…every bounce, every go-around, every fluffed approach were all things I knew I’d hate myself for because in actual fact, the rest of me knew that it never was going to be easy…

My friend Paul is a good instructor. He has a way with being everything he needs to be exactly when he needs to be in order to help someone progress. Thus after I’d swallowed my pride and forced my ego to come to terms with the fact that I was going to be useless to start with, but that it didn’t actually matter, I focused on flying circuits with Paul in order to crack the whole ‘becoming a Pitts Special pilot’ thing.

It has come to mind that an aeroplane isn’t simply a tool or a machine, but that it has a soul. SKNT certainly does, and a character to match. Simply controlling the aeroplane isn’t really flying. You need confidence alongside vast amounts of respect and humility. Once you get the balance right though, accepting and listening to the guidance you are given, everything starts to settle into the right places. And so it was, that after a few hours of flying round and round and round and round in circles, occasionally landing but more often bouncing, whacking the power on and going around (or just going around after a truly terrible attempt at a side-slipped approach), of swearing to myself, hearing Paul saying the same things over and over again until they finally went in, of forgetting where to turn, of fidgeting in my harness, of wishing my seat was more comfortable or that I was on the beach in the Bahamas instead, of wondering when it would all end, of wishing I was a better pilot, of more swearing at myself, and of finally realising that I was becoming a better pilot, of flying perfect and near-perfect approaches, of landing and stopping and backtracking and flying again, of smiling and realising that every bit of hardship and pain was worth it, of sitting and thinking that I’m madly in love with this type of flying and this type of aeroplane, of realising and knowing that I could do this, of still stuffing it up and swearing at myself occasionally, of going out and flying and relaxing and breathing and focusing: I finally learned to land.

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