I was able to take a couple hours over the long holiday weekend to sneak out for an early AM flight. Unlike my previous 5 flights, this one was spent "working the pattern," or practicing the standard take-off and landing maneuvers required for most airports. The typical traffic pattern is flown in a pre-defined circuit around the airport, either counter-clockwise (a "left-turn" pattern) or clockwise (a "right-turn" pattern), depending on local terrain features or traffic conditions. (Great Wikipedia description here, for those interested). When doing pattern work, you essentially fly around in circles for a while, taking off from the airfield, climbing, flying back in a direction parallel to the runway, and then descending and landing (or coming close to it). Lather, rinse, and repeat. The purpose of working the pattern is to spend time becoming familiar (and increasingly proficient) with basic take-off and landing tasks that are otherwise encountered only once during a typical flight.
The five phases of a standard left-turning traffic pattern: Upwind, Crosswind, Downwind, Base, and Final. (courtesy of Wikipedia)
After taxiing to thehold-short line, I radioed to the Hanscom Tower to request a departure from Runway 29, specifying my intent to remain in the traffic pattern. We were cleared for a departur to a left-turn pattern. I brought up the throttle and we took off into our departure, or Upwind, climb. Once we reached 700 feet of altitude, I made a turn onto the Crosswind leg, contintuing to climb to 1000'. We then turned on to the Downwind leg and flew back along-side the runway. At the midpoint, I checked in with the Tower controller and re-specified my intent to return to the runway. With my CFI's guidance, I brought back the throttle, beginning the airplane's descent. We turned on to the Base leg, and then onto the Final approach, slowly sinking lower and lower towards the runway. Instead of landing, we practiced low flight, maintaining the airplane at a (nerve-wracking-to-me) 20' above the ground as we sped along the runway. Halfway down the length of the runway, I brought the throttle up to full and began the climb of the Upwind leg, once again.
All in all, we performed 5 runs through the pattern (4 making left-turns, 1 making right, as directed by the Tower controller). I made 'touch-and-go' landings for the second, third, and fourth circuits through the pattern, actually bringing the airplane down to the runway, rolling along it for a bit of distance on the main and nose landing gear, and then applying full throttle and taking off again. None of the landings were particularly pretty, but none were as awful as they could be and by the end of the whole affair, I was feeling much more comfortable with the concept of landing, if not the execution of it. Finally, on the fifth landing I brought the plane to a full stop on the taxiway and returned to our parking ramp. All in all, I logged 1.2 hours of flight time, without ever actually leaving the airport area.
Now for some more landing practice (and some more, and some more, and some more...)