Airborne At Last!

At last, I made it off the ground! Today was the first time I’ve ever flown (or flown in) a small plane… and it was a blast.

Last night my lesson got bumped from 8am to 9am because the forecast was to not have VFR conditions until about 9am. We started with a quick weather check, which included talking to a briefer. The briefer is an FAA employee in a local office (Raleigh in this case) that provides weather and other information to pilots via phone. The club has a rule that you must speak with a briefer before every flight. The conversation is recorded, so if something bad happens due to weather, someone that cares will know that you checked the weather before going up. It’s also important because the briefer can give you recent TFRs, NOTAMs, and any other up-to-date information that may be of interest.

We then headed out to do a thorough pre-flight check. There is a list of 81 items (plus a couple things the instructor told me are worth checking that are not on the list) to check before flying. That took about half an hour to go through because we took the time for me to understand exactly what to look for and what to do in case of problems. In the future, I’ll be able to show up early and do a pre-flight check before I have to start paying the instructor for his time.

In the plane, we took the time to go over the “before start” checklist and I cranked up the engine. Gene taxied out to the other end of the runway and announced on the CTAF radio frequency our intentions to take off. Before entering the runway, we followed the pre-takeoff checklist which included a run-up (running the engine to almost full power and checking gauges to make sure they’re ok before doing it for real at takeoff). After that, and a radio announcement, we turned on to the runway, full throttle, and up we went!

I was sort of expecting my stomach to stay on the ground, or some tiny amount of fear to set in. But, nothing; not the slightest bit of either. I was surprised. After I finally realized I was completely okay, I relaxed a bit more and enjoyed the view. Visibility was only about 7 miles, so it was difficult to see the horizon, but the view below was fabulous.

Gene brought us up to 3,000 feet, which is 2,750-ish AGL. He flew us around the practice area, which is the area south of Hwy 64, East of 421, and west of US Hwy 1. After a few demonstrations of the right and wrong way to make a turn, I took over and fiddled with the controls for a bit. That’s right, he just wanted me to play around with the ailerons, rudders, and elevators to get a feel for them. It was fun (and educational) to see how the plane reacts to each input.

After goofing off for a few minutes, I worked on proper left and right turns. The hard-to-see horizon made it a bit difficult because a lot of learning to make a proper turn requires seeing how the horizon looks while turning. There is a lot going on at once, and being my first time up, it was a bit overwhelming. Gene said I was doing a good job, so I must not have been too bad.

After doing that north along 421 and then east near Siler City along 64 up to Jordan Lake, Gene took over and demonstrated some slow flying. We got down from the previous 100 knots to 70-75 knots, which is the speed we fly during the pattern. It was interesting how much upward pitch was needed to keep the plane at the right altitude; it was like flying a wheelie.

After a few minutes of that, we realized it was time to be done. Gene took over and flew us straight toward the airport. On our approach, there was another student working on touch-and-go landings in the pattern. We were in front, but going slower and doing a full-stop landing, so Gene (after radio communication with the other plane), did a slow 360 and let the other plane touch-and-go in front of us. The landing was fairly smooth, but we didn’t talk about it much since we were long past our finish time.

After getting clear of the runway, I took over and taxied back to the tie-down. We did a quick post-flight check, tied the plane down, finished up in the clubhouse with a little paperwork and that was it.

It went by fast, but I logged 1.1 hours, which means the plane was running for that long. Factoring out taxi time, we were in the air for about 50 minutes. The air was mostly smooth, but there were a few times we were moved around in fun, unexpected ways.

I mentioned to Gene that this was my first experience in a small plane and that I wasn’t nervous like I thought I might be. He said I seemed comfortable and that, unlike some students, I didn’t have any reservations about taking the controls.

My next lesson is scheduled for Saturday at 8am. I can’t wait. 🙂