First Flight!

by Berck

Well, I didn’t sleep very well last night because I’ve gotten used to going to bed at 2am and waking up at noon. So I’m pretty tired after getting up at 0630 this morning, then bicycling 35 minutes, sitting in class for 3 hours, flying for an hour, then bicycling back.

Ground school was fairly interesting; I didn’t find myself falling asleep despite how tired I was. The teacher, I believe his name is Dale, is between 40 and 50 years and looks like he weighs over 400 pounds, which can be somewhat distracting at first. Although generally well spoken, he has some amusing grammatical quirks. For instance, something he might say when talking about someone who crashed, “The only thing he coulda did to get out of that was…” And he never says feet, at least I’ve never heard him say feet. Usually foot, every now and then foots. e.g., “Traffic pattern altitude is about 1000 foot AGL…” He finished up talking about aerodynamics, and then moved onto airport signage and the like which was far less interesting.

After that, I found Mike and we went flying. After I took an eternity to get the preflight done since I’d never really done it before, Mike had me do a bit of taxiing. I wouldn’t have figured it’s all that hard, really. The 172 has only two methods of steering, and they both involve the rudder pedals. Push the right pedal, the plane goes right and vice versa. The nose wheel is connected to the rudder cables by a sort of bungee system, which is hardly very precise, and at best turns the noise wheel 30 degrees right or left, a few seconds after you ask it to, provided you’re already moving. So you’ve got to stay ahead of the game. Fortunately, for tighter turns, you can also use either brake to turn in the direction you want by pressing on the tops of the rudder pedals.

Well, it turns out that the first bad thing is that everything else I’ve driven I steer with a mechanism in front of me. Right in front of me is a control yoke which, of course, is utterly useless on the ground (aside from trying to keep the plane from doing bad things in really gusty conditions) and of course, I know this. That doesn’t stop me from grabbing it and turning it to no avail.

Since there’s a monster propeller sitting in front of me turning clockwise, the plane does its best to turn left, both on the ground and in the sky. This takes some getting used to, because what it means is that the plane doesn’t turn to the right or the left the same way. The end result to having two different methods of turning the plane, one which requires stomping the associated rudder pedal to the floor and the other which requires delicately touching the tops of the pedals is that I had a fair amount of difficulty getting it to do what I wanted remotely gracefully. Mike kept insisting that I was doing just fine. “It’s not THAT big a deal if you don’t keep it on the line, and you’re a long way away from the grass…” Still, I thought that part would be easy! And the nice thing about a plane was that if I got it too far off, Mike could just straighten it out for me, at the same time helping get a feel for the right inputs.

Mike made all the appropriate radio calls, and then we taxied out the runway. He had me keeps my hands and feet on the controls while he took off so I could get a feel for what was going on. After we were barely established in a climb, and before I was really ready for it, Mike let go of the controls and had me climb out. It was quite windy, and rather gusty, up to 20 knots. He wouldn’t let me use the instruments, and just told me to keep the cowl level with the horizon. He had me make left traffic, then fly south and follow a river. I got the hang of turning, aileron input wasn’t much of a surprise, but getting the hang of the rudder was. The first few turns I made were shallow banked, and not very well coordinated since I didn’t really use much rudder input. After that I decided to go for a real turn, hauled off and banked rapidly to the right, and used a judicial amount of rudder, until I could feel it working. Curious about how I was doing, I glanced down at the turn coordinator even though Mike told me not to use the instruments. I was amazed that the ball was slammed against the left side of its little groove, and the bank was approximately appropriate for a standard turn. I’d thought I was a lot steeper than that, and certainly better coordinated. I stomped rather heartily on the right rudder pedal to try and coordinatet hings a bit. The ball didn’t move. It took what seemed like a lot of rudder to get it centered, and by then I was losing altitude rather rapidly. I discovered it took a lot more effort to keep the nose up in a turn than I expected. As I rolled out, Mike said, “My other private went for her first flight this morning… She rolled us right into a 60 degree turn, I was impressed.” That really surprised me, since it’s rather unnerving at first to be in a little box tilted over 60 degrees. Not wanting to be outdone, I turned into what I was sure was a fairly steep turn, glanced down and discovered that it needed a lot more rudder, which was fun, and then realized that I was losing altitude so pulled back and learned first hand what load factor and increased angle of attack in a turn is all about. That’s a really fun feeling, though I doubt it was more than a 1.5G turn. I was dismayed when I glanced at the attitude indicator and saw that I was in a 45 degree bank. It seemed like much more and I really would fall over. Part of it for me, too, is that I’ve spent a lot of time in airliners which seldom exceed 30 degrees of bank. After leveling out, I decided to regain lost altitude, and thought I’d try a climb at best rate of climb. Pulling back and firewalling the throttle was fun. I just kept pulling the nose up until the airspeed indicator hit 65 knots. It sunk a little below that, then Mike said I could try it a little steeper. Shortly after pulling back just a little more I got the stall warning and backed off a little. “Wanna try a stall?” Mike asked. Having never been in a stall,and seeing as how there was no time like the present, I said sure. Mike mumbled something about not usually doing stalls your first time up, then said he’d demonstrate one, then I could do it. We leveled off at 3500 feet, he reduced power to idle, and said we’d simulate a landing approach. He slowed to about 65 knots, and put out 30 degrees of flaps. After establishing a steady descent rather slowly, he pulled back on the yoke and stall warning started whining. It whined for about 5 seconds, the plane shuddered a little, then sank into a nose low attitude Mike left the nose low, applied power establishing a positive rate of climb, then gradually reduced flaps until the airplane was clean again. After reminding me not to try to use the ailerons to correct for the inevitable leftward falling (since this is a good way to find out what a spin is all about), he left it to me to do the same thing. I established a decent, slowed us down, extended the flaps, then pulled back. A whine, then the nose refused to climb higher and sunk a bit. I was a little disappointed at just how boring it was, so I kept pulling back until the plane was quite stalled, and mike said, “That’s about all the stall you’re going to get…” So I pushed the nose a little further down, went to full power and started climbing. “About like that, or should I have gained more airspeed before climbing out?” “No, that’s good, you want to climb as soon you’re able, and not lose anymore altitude than you need to.” I kept climbing, but it seemed rather sluggish. The airpseed indicator said about 45 knots, and the stall warning was starting to whine again. Confused, since I didn’t seem to be climbing that steeply, I let the nose down a bit until it stopped and looked inquisitively at Mike. “Put the flaps up,” he said. “Oh, right.” With 30 degrees of flaps, I wasn’t going to climb anywhere very fast.

Mike had me fly a crosswind heading for awhile, and let me experiment with the difference between crabbing and slipping, and I experienced the joys of trying to force a 172 to fly uncoordinated yet straight. It really doesn’t want to. Well, getting it in a slip is easy enough, it’s just that minor correction is tricky.

After it seemed like we’d only been up there for a short while, Mike called for a landing clearance, and we were cleared straight in. The runway was ahead of us, just off to the right. He had me establish the approach, which I did although I ended up a little low and fast, mostly because Mike told me to keep the numbers in the middle of the windscreen which seemed a bit low to me. In getting lower, I got a little faster, which is when Mike decided he’d better land. This is good, because I was getting a little worried that he was going to have me land it, and I didn’t really think that was such a great idea. I had a bit more frustration trying to keep the plane taxiing straight back to the tie-down area, where the lesson was over. After the lesson, he signed my logbook and said I was on the schedule tomorrow for noon was well, and that we’d do some steep turns, some more stalls, and he’d let me take off and possibly land. It hardly seemed like a 1.2 hour flight. I’ve been on 15 minute flights that seemed longer, although I did spend a very long time taxiing in circles, or trying to anyway.

I guess it’s quite a bit harder, and very much different than I thought it would be. It seems like it will take an eternity of instruction before I’ll feel comfortable enough to fly it on my own.

The bicycle riding thing is a lot of work, but I suppose it’s good for me.

Well, tomorrow’s another day, but I get to fly! Joanna left me a message saying she’d be getting off work at 530pm tonight. Overtime on her first day. I’m not sure if that’s good or not.

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