The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve was set to be a slow one. The week started out with poor weather and the few instructional flights I had scheduled on Tuesday were cancelled. Wednesday, the clouds cleared but the winds were blowing strong - gusts exceeding 40 knots were recorded at several major airports. Aloft, things were even crazier with pilot reports from airliners clocking 45 to 50 knot winds as low as 3000 feet.
Thursdays saw the winds decrease a bit and I did two flights: One in the morning with an instructor candidate and the other an evening flight with an instrument candidate. The winds were still blowing that morning and climbing out toward the Central Valley we ran into a couple of downdrafts where climb power and Vx (best angle of climb speed) showed a 200 foot-per-minute descent. Landings at a local non-towered airport were also interesting with a 40 degree quartering headwind at 18 knots gusting to 35 knots. Eights-on-plyons (a ground reference maneuver) were pretty interesting given the strong winds. I demonstrated one crosswind landing for my instructor candidate. As I began the roundout over the runway and removed the crab angle, I found I had nearly full left rudder applied and significant right aileron. I was prepared to go around if things got worse, but it turned out to be one the best landings I've made in a while. It reminded me of what a old instructor said to me when I was first learning to handle really strong crosswind landings: "I enjoy a good crosswind during landing - it gives me something to do."
When nightfall arrived, the wind speed had dropped significantly and the city lights around the Bay Area were twinkling in the cold, crystalline air. This flight would be Running the Gauntlet: An ILS approach, followed by one turn in a hold over a VOR, followed by a VOR alpha approach to a different airport based on the same VOR, a circle to land at the non-towered airport, culminating in a DME arc off a different VOR to intercept the intermediate approach course for an RNAV approach. My instrument candidate got his plane stabilized on the ILS and was waiting for glideslope intercept, his eyes hidden from view under his foggles.
Two miles outside the marker, in a flash, I saw the brief outlines of a flock of geese come straight over the nose and disappear over the top of the aircraft. I instinctively reached for the controls, but never really touched them. The event was over in a flash and I didn't hear the dreaded sound of an impact, so I took a deep breath and we continued on. The pilot asked me if something was the matter and I told him what I had seen. Why geese were flying at 1400 feet above ground level at night was a mystery to me, but I told the tower of our close encounter and I assume he made entered a PIREP for us. Had those geese been any lower, they would have come through the windshield and that would have been B A D.
Back on the ground, I inspected the plane with my flashlight while the owner re-fueled. I couldn't find any sign of impact or damage until I inspected the propeller. The prop was intact and undamaged, too, but on just one tip there was a smear of blood. I remembered seeing some feather or dust or something for an instant as the geese went over us. One of them must have just grazed the tip of the prop.
I'm amazed at how quickly the months, weeks and days of the 2006 have gone by. A quick review of my records shows I recommended 10 candidates for check rides in 2006: two private pilot, three commercial multiengine, two commercial single engine, one instrument, and two initial flight instructors. All but one passed on the first try. No bad considering I spent the first half of the year teaching part time while I worked full time as a freight dog. And it's sad, but I see that my income from flight instructing for 6 months was 10% more than the annual salary I had a freight dog. While no one is in aviation to make a fortune, I find it sad that professional pilots are so poorly compensated.
So as 2006 draws to a close, I'd like to wish all of you a safe and prosperous New Year.