Yes, that's right; me - a forty-something female with a penchant for heels - dangerous. And I don't mean 'dangerous if armed with a credit card in a boutique' either, although that may, indeed, be the case.
Nope. Stats gathered and published by both CASA and the ATSB ascertain that a pilot with between 500 and 1000 hours is at a greater risk of accident. It's known as the 'complacency' phase, and on my recent flight to Temora, I have to admit, I saw signs of it in myself.
Once the butterflies in the stomach stage of flying has passed, and a pilot knows they can handle the aircraft, navigate pretty much anywhere (thanks, AvPlan!) and communicate with ATC and other pilots, it's inevitable that one becomes a little more relaxed. The high tension, double check list, self doubting phase is over (although for me, it seems to come back if I don't fly regularly).
What I noticed, in fact what my friend (a much more experienced pilot than I) pointed out, is that I've become just a little bit lazy with the systems: failing to align the compass with the DI, forgetting to turn off the fuel boost pump; nothing dangerous, but there really isn't a place for slackness in the cockpit.
Someone wise once told me: whenever you reach a stage of comfort in aviation, it's a sure sign that it's time to take on a new challenge. Learning to fly isn't over with the arrival of your pilot's licence. So, with that in mind, I've commenced the next step (again! I've tried this once, and became way laid by work). So, here it is - take two - the instrument rating.
This time, I've decided a private rating (rather than commercial) is enough for my needs. The plan is to plough through the study, pass the exam and then commence the flight training. A whole new language is required (Advanced Acronym, I believe it's called) with LSALTs and Sector Entries and SIDs and STARs all part of the new lexicon.
As a sweetener, my friend Andrew - an IFR pilot and owner of a C182 - took me for a buzz down to Moruya yesterday. It's agreed among IFR students that mastering the radio calls is one of the big first challenges in studying for the rating, and so Andrew kindly handed the radio over to me. Clearances and reports are so much more detailed than VFR, but with my AvPlan notepad at the ready, I managed to catch the whole clearance, and read it back without any mistakes. The only call I bungled was a short one, typically.
As Andrew is running in a new engine, we whizzed down to Merimbula (through the cloud) before heading north to conduct a practice approach using the Moruya RNAV.
After completing the approach, which we discussed at length before nearing Moruya and Andrew asked me a stack of questions about the plate (and I learned that a METAR QNH doesn't count as an actual QNH), my head was bursting. AND we flew the approach coupled with the autopilot! I can't imagine trying anything quite so tricky, demanding such precision, without an autopilot, and in crappy weather, with a drop pilot throwing out canopies every 30 mins. Apparently, your brain expands to take on the extra work - or so I hope.
After a lovely picnic on the beach, I flew home - VFR - in the delightful comfort that is a C182 with a brand new engine. However, nothing is free, and the trade off for the wonderfully smooth cruise and rocket speed that belongs to the 182 is the fact you have to land the beasty. I've never found 182s easy - they're so nose heavy, and I'm so puny - and I know the trick is in trim trim trim, but I always struggle. Having given me the most perfect flying conditions up the coast, the Imp of the Perverse decided that landing a 182 without a crosswind would be cheating, so threw me in around 7 knots or so, just for a laugh. While I will win no awards for graceful landings in a 182, the landing was fine, if not a little heavy.
To celebrate a successful flight (an important ritual in aviation, which must always be observed) we stopped at the pub on the way home, where I demonstrated my 'dangerous' streak once more by ordering a rare steak, a bottle of wine AND a dessert.