I keep breaking airplanes…

Well, someone does anyway.  Today I flew with Jerome.  I preflighted N698FL, we had the tanks topped off and took off from Eppley headed for Blair.  I handled all of the radio calls, the only mis-step was when Departure told me “Own navigation, at or above 3500” and I responded “Own navigation, at or above three thousand five hundred, 8FL, good day”.  That last was a little premature, since he hadn’t told me radar service terminated, frequency change approved.  Not a big deal, he called a minute later to see if I was still on the frequency.  I was, having not switched to the Blair AWOS frequency yet – since he hadn’t told me I could yet.  Minor procedure thing, no biggie.

We did a T&G at Blair.  My pattern was “just OK”, not great, but I got it in.  I didn’t get the nose up enough in the flare and landed fairly smoothly but flat.  John would probably have been on the controls, but Jerome let me muff it so I knew what it would do.  Flaps up, full throttle, around again.  Second approach was too high and too fast, I did a go-around.  The third time I was long on the downwind and too low when I turned final, so I added power and basically flew it flat until I was in the right spot, then dropped some power and flaps.  I landed a little longer than I planned and was a little slow making the decision, so I didn’t think I had enough runway left to suit me.  No problem, taxi back and take off.  Well, on the way back — a 4200′ taxi — the nose wheel started to shimmy, badly.  Jerome tried a takeoff run but it was almost immediately apparent it was a no-go.  We parked, called the office and tied down the plane.  The front office girl was nice enough to come out and pick us up (thanks, Unique!) and get us back to Eppley.  From there I met Lisa at Stella’s for an incredible burger; if you haven’t eaten at Stella’s, you really need to.  It would be like living in Chicago and never eating at Portillo’s.  Then it was off  to Bellevue West for an AOPA safety seminar.

This makes three times I’ve left there with an airplane INOP for various reasons.  N698FL with nose gear issues all three times, plus N5533F with a broken pilot side yoke once – I found that on preflight.  I like the school, I like the people, but the maintenance issues are starting to wear a little.  Only .9 in the log book today.  On the bright side, we did have some time to talk while waiting on our ride back.  I think I have a better approach to try — no pun intended.  Jerome’s suggestion was to trim for a 500 FPM descent as soon as I reduce power and drop the first notch of flaps, and keep trimmed.  I’ve been needing a LOT of back pressure to flare.  I keep hearing that it shouldn’t take a lot of effort, but by the time I’m flaring I’m having to damn near lean back to get enough back pressure.  Next time I’m going to try doing a lot more trimming and see where that gets me.  Maybe I can reduce the workload in the pattern and concentrate more on watching the airspeed and turns.