I'm at the point flying now where I'm fine if things go as planned. But I don't have much experience improvising. Today's solo flight was a good exercise.
The weather wasn't as good as predicted so I decided to just do a few trips around the pattern. The reported 240@6kts winds were well within my comfort zone. The wind sock was flopping around a bit, so I asked for an updated wind reading and was told it was still 240@6. OK, that's fine then.

The first complication happened on my downwind. I was following another Cessna around the pattern, cleared to land #2. And following, and following. Normally you turn base at about half a mile or so past the runway. I was more than a mile and a half out still following this guy on downwind when the tower called to remind me I was #2 to land, implicitly asking why I hadn't turned yet. I quickly reported "following traffic still on downwind". That must have woken the other pilot up, he started to turn. I was all out of my usual routine trying to figure out what power and flaps I needed for this greatly extended pattern. Rule #1: fly the plane. I took stock and realized I was way too slow, so I pitched down, added some power and made my turn behind the other plane.

I just about had this unusual approach figured out when I realized the plane I was following was staying high like he was going to overfly the field. Then the second complication: he did a forward slip, dropped swiftly, and landed. And kept rolling down the runway, leisurely using the full length of the field. And me coming in as slow as I dared hoping to land behind him. Tower asked the guy to expedite getting off the runway, he casually replied he'd turn when he could. When I was about 20 feet from touching down the guy was still on the runway so tower told me to go around. Unexpected, but not dangerous.

In the meantime I'm hearing pilots ask for updated winds and now they're 140@9kts. The third complication: the wind had swung around and was getting strong enough to be uncomfortable. Tower mentioned considering switching runways but had five planes in the pattern. Soon they were telling everyone to land and wait, clearing the air. Meantime I'm still up there, seemingly forgotten, and with no idea where the other planes were. So I called in "Tower, am I cleared to turn base?". Our tower guys at KSQL are great. He immediately told me to turn left 180 and enter left downwind for the other runway. So I made my turn, watching very carefully for planes, and proceeded to make a very ordinary approach. Except the ground was going by very fast on short final, the wind had swung around again and I ended up landing with a bit of a tailwind.

That was enough adventure for one day, so I called in to taxi to parking. I'm a bit proud that Tower replied with a "thanks for the help". Guess I got it right!

Update: I heard from someone else that the plane ahead of me on downwind had been told to extend downwind by tower. I must have missed that. Also they were in a slower plane than I, which may explain why I overtook them on final.
  2010-02-11 00:02 Z