Well, Not The Weather
I knew it would be expensive, complex, and take up far more of my time than training anywhere outside of the NYC area would.After an excruciating 11 days without flying, due to weather, I finally got back up in the air. The weather was marginal: good enough to fly dual touch-and-goes, but too cloudy or hazy for a solo flight or a trip to the practice area. So we waited, and waited, and waited. I’ve got the plane booked for Monday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, and it seems like the weather is always perfect on Wednesday. But finally, we got a Monday with beautiful weather, so I hopped on the train out to the airport.
Knocking Off The Dust
My instructor told me he wanted me to get some more solo practice in the airport environment, so this lesson would essentially be a repeat of my first solo: three touch and goes with him in the airplane, then three by myself. We sat down and got strapped in, and he said, “OK, take me around three times. From this point forward, I’m not going to say a word.” Boy, did my heart start pounding! It was sink or swim time, and I hadn’t been in the airplane for 11 days! I slowed down and just tried to remember to stick to the checklists. I got the airplane started, got the radios set up, and started to taxi out. It took me a while to get my call in to Ground, which should have been a clue that this was another busy day at Republic. Once I switched to Tower, my ears were assaulted with non-stop rapid-fire clearances, vectors, and advisories.
And here was where I made a pretty embarrassing mistake: I jumped in the middle of a conversation and got yelled at by the controller. Because aviation radios use a simplex system (sending and receiving is on the same channel), you always have to wait for a break in the chatter to send your radio call. If two people send a radio transmission at once, everyone hears a buzzing or squealing noise, and no one can make out either transmission. I’ve been pretty good about waiting my turn and not blocking anyone’s transmission so far, but today I got impatient. I was waiting so long for any break in the chatter that I stopped listening to the content of the conversation. When I heard a silence I jumped on it. My instructor cringed because he knew what was coming: “YOU SHOULD NOT BE CALLING ME WHEN I’M TALKING TO ANOTHER AIRPLANE!”. Whoops. He was in the middle of a back-and-forth with another pilot and I interrupted before they could answer his question.
A Blessing in Disguise
Here’s the thing: flying out of Republic is hard. You have to deal with Ground, Tower, helicopters, corporate jets, and more student pilots than you can shake a stick at. The Class D airspace is sandwiched under JFK and LaGuardia’s Class B airspace, and only a few miles from Islip’s Class C airspace. It. Is. Busy. As. Hell. ATC in the area are probably the best in the country, which also means the radio frequencies sound like there’s an ongoing aerial cattle auction. When I started it was, frankly, terrifying.
I had no reference for anything like this. I’ve been obsessively reading everything aviation-related I could get my hands on for years, but, every time I read a blog or website about someone’s flight training, they always seemed to be based at some idyllic rural airpark. They only seemed to deal with controlled airspace when they had to, to meet their minimum training requirements, and they didn’t seem too happy about it. I never encountered any student pilots writing about being 4th in line for takeoff, or hearing “Traffic, 747, two miles, caution wake turbulence” on the radio.
Once I made the now-or-never decision to start my flight training, I knew it would be different than any training experience I had ever read about. I knew it would be expensive, complex, and take up far more of my time than training anywhere outside of the NYC area would. But now that I am in the thick of it, there is nowhere else I would rather be doing my training. I think Ol’ Blue Eyes said it best:
“If I can make it there, I’m gonna make it anywhere”Frank Sinatra
Airport with no control tower? No problem. Complex Class C or D airspace? Pssshhh, been there. Have you weaved your way through 787s on approach to JFK and Gulfstreams full of rich executives while slipping into a traffic pattern full of international student student pilots whose first language isn’t English? I have. I do it every time I fly.
(P.S. Mad props to those students: learning to fly is hard enough in my native language, I couldn’t imagine having to do it in Mandarin or Hindi).
So, in the end, I think it will be a major benefit that I trained in such complicated airspace. Everything else has to be easier than this. I’m glad that I will be able to handle a busy radio frequency, a cluttered sectional map, and a fast-talking controller.
Speaking of fast-talking controllers, the Republic Tower controller threw me a curveball during this lesson. I did my three touch-and-goes with my instructor, dropped him off, and started to taxi back out towards the runway SOLO. I got all the way to the runway threshold when the Tower controller told me, due to a shift in winds, they were changing the active runway. Uhhhhhhhh. A quick glance to my right confirmed that my instructor had not suddenly reappeared in his seat, as I hoped he would. Luckily, the controller talked me through the taxi instructions, which had me taxiing down the runway (a first), and taking off from a different runway without using the full length (another first). There was plenty of room for a safe takeoff, but this was a lot of new information to take in, process, and act on. I handled it, though, and did my three solo touch-and-goes with no problems, because training at Republic had prepared me for exactly this type of situation.
Although, the more I look at the tracking data the more I’m convinced maybe Tower was just messing with me: left traffic, right traffic, long patterns, short patterns, two different runways, a 360 degree turn… I’ll never interrupt him again, I promise!